DIY Luddites!

Henry here again, filling in for my son Steve, who’s still working on a backlog of work. Or so he claims. With the nice beach weather they’ve been having, I suspect the only thing he’s working on is his fifth margarita, but we’ll just have to take him at his word.

Perhaps the Luddites were right. Perhaps I should explain.

I was shaving the other day when my mind flashed back to a day when I watched my uncle shave. He looked back at me from the other side of the mirror. It was quite a ritual. And like all good rituals, it only happened at special times.

He shaved once a week because of the Sabbath, whether there was church or not. His was a slow life. He only got around to shaving after having milked the cows, gathered the eggs, fed the pigs, fed and watered the horses, and cooked and ate his breakfast. He would even light the stove before preparing his breakfast. And when he was done, he would go to the tank that hung on the side of the stove and grab a hand basin full of water. Next he would pull the razor out of its case and sharpen it on a leather belt made for the purpose.

I still have his straight razor, and I treasure it. I remember that he’d always nicked himself and then spend the rest of the day with pieces of paper stuck to the cut spots, waiting for them to stop bleeding. He was a deeply private, introverted person and never said anything about this ritual. Although it was fascinating for a young boy to watch. If there was no church, he just sat quietly reading in the kitchen, quite content. The hard work for the day was done.

His life was the one that many health experts suggest as ideal for the giddy multitude: slow, considered and unhurried. Perhaps this technologically simple life should be a goal for us all. He heated with wood, not oil. He had no radio, no phone, and of course, no electrically powered technology. In his own way, he was a Luddite.

The Luddites were a group of textile-makers in early 19th century England who were against technology in the form of machines that replaced their labor and registered their displeasure by smashing the machines to bits and actually clashing with the British army. The Luddites weren’t known for their subtlety.

It strikes me that the people who embrace D*I*Y could also be classified as neo-luddites. Now I doubt that anyone reading this article is going to rush out and smash the office fax machine; but the patrons of this site do have an affinity for older technology. And before anyone points it out, I realize the irony of calling people who frequent a website Luddites. Thank you.

Despite the fact that we all keep in touch with this website, it seems that many of us enjoy using older technology. Some of you may even have once again taken up the use of the straight razor. I never had the nerve to use one. I always feared that I would behead myself. I’ve never used a fountain pen due to similar health and safety concerns. But lots of people on this site do. In the age when the computer is king, we revel in the feel, texture, use and enjoyment of real paper, leather journals and proper pens, rather than a keyboard and a word processor. Many of us even use these templates to organize our creativity and keep journals at home.

Using this 21st Century website, we are falling back on a method of communicating and record keeping with which my uncle would have been happy.

But then perhaps modern computer technology, the snazziest laptop and the newest iPod, is not the last word in human happiness. Perhaps we all need to slow down and enjoy the flow of words, the scratch of pens, the smell of good paper, and the joy of having words grow under ones hand. Perhaps the Luddites were on to something after all.

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