More Than a Decade of Neo- Luddite Living

Here’s a column I wrote for The Dallas Morning News more than 10 years ago on Feb. 20. Although I have a blog and no husband these days, I can’t say my manifesto has changed that much. After all, I still have that Civic — and the power locks haven’t worked in years.


The Dallas Morning News

Low-tech living easier to deal with
Charlene Oldham
Published: February 20, 2001

It doesn’t take much to be a neo-Luddite nowadays. I drive a 1998 Honda Civic with power windows and locks, live in a house with electric lights, central heat and air – even indoor plumbing. I use a telephone, computer, e-mail and the Internet every day at work. Nonetheless, many of my colleagues consider me a neo-Luddite, one of the new breed of people who reject some of the trappings of technology in favor of a simpler life. Why, asked Chellis Glendinning, author of “Notes Toward a Neo-Luddite Manifesto”? Because I don’t own a Palm Pilot. (My editor informs me that they don’t actually produce Palm Pilots anymore. She owns a Palm Vx.) “I don’t know what a Palm Pilot is,” said Ms. Glendinning whose “Manifesto,” published in Utne Reader magazine more than a decade ago, is now considered a handbook for the neo-Luddite movement. A far simpler lifestyle Ms. Glendinning lives in an adobe house in one of the tiny villages that dot northern New Mexico. A psychologist and writer, she produces her books and articles with a pencil and heats her home, equipped with a passive solar system that helps regulate temperature, with firewood. “But I have some things. I have a telephone. I have two cars because I am a single woman living in the country,” said Ms. Glendinning, who owns a 1979 Jeep CJ7 and a 1977 Honda Civic that definitely doesn’t have power locks or windows. “I don’t really know what I should have because I don’t know what people have now.” Imagine how hard it was to explain the concept of a personal digital assistant to a woman who last remembered pulling her television out of the closet to watch newscasts about the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. We like it that way My nod toward neo-Luddism pales in comparison. Even so, friends, family and acquaintances occasionally react with amazement when I tell them my husband and I don’t have a power mower, UHF channels, cable television or Internet access at home. Our 1930s bungalow isn’t equipped with a garbage disposal or a dishwasher. We own one wireless phone and two office-issue pagers between us. Neither of us carries a personal digital assistant, and we share an aging IBM ThinkPad that, without Internet access, is really nothing more than a glorified word processor. And the most amazing thing – we like it that way. In an average week, we watch about four hours of television, the same amount most American adults consume in a single day. Thanks to the anachronistic antenna on the roof, the VHF-only reception is never any worse than usual. The recent court ruling against the Internet music-swapping service, Napster, didn’t devastate us. And we’ve never had to e-mail a complaint to AOL because we spent two hours trying to sign on. The low-tech lifestyle can pay off professionally and financially, too. A few months ago, an e-mail virus killed the Microsoft Outlook contacts lists of many other reporters in the office. Armed with a Rolodex and a decade-old day planner recently outfitted with fresh Velcro, I was unaffected. Still, I wonder what I’m missing sometimes. So I recently logged on to Compaq Computer Corp.’s web site – at work, of course – to check out the iPAQ H3630. The iPAQ is a color pocket PC so scarce in stores that it’s going for about $600 on eBay, $100 more than its suggested retail price. “Definitely the product has had more demand than we ever expected when we produced it,” said Compaq spokeswoman Nora Hahn. “We doubled our output in the third quarter, doubled it again in the fourth quarter and we will increase it again, by 25 percent, in the first quarter of this year. But we’re still backlogged. We’re able to fill about one of every four orders right now.” To help deal with the demand, Compaq introduced a monochrome model of the iPAQ last month. The black-and-white version is available immediately and retails for just $349. Thanks, I think I’ll pass. I don’t mean to sound smug. Like Ms. Glendinning, I use the technology I need when I need it. Increasingly, though, that’s enough to set us apart in a technology-soaked world where some see gadgetry as an end in itself and others really can’t do without wireless phones or constant e-mail access. In such a world, even Ms. Glendinning and I might find we need cable television or cars equipped with navigation systems and on-board Internet access ports someday. But I think we’ll both stick with our Civics – and our low-tech lives – as long as we can. Charlene Oldham is a Dallas Morning News staff writer.

9 thoughts on “More Than a Decade of Neo- Luddite Living

  1. So the next time my husband tells me I should consider replacing my 2001 Ford Laser I will tell him I’m a neo-Luddite. There is nothing wrong with it. It’s comfortable, drives well and it’s a pretty blue colour! And only one of the doors’ power locks has stopped working, so it is not past its use-by date yet.

    I really enjoyed reading this post Charlene, via our Facebook group. Thanks for sharing.

  2. The technology in this article is hilariously outdated, but the sentiment is still the same! I hardly watch TV either, and while I admit I’ve become a bit addicted to my iPhone, I also don’t feel a need to update to whatever the latest technology is every time something new comes out.

    1. One of my friend’s kid’s “practices” unlocking my car door because I am the only person he knows who doesn’t have a button on their key fob that does it for them.

  3. Made me smile but also interesting that lots of the technology references are still valid (eg selling on ebay). Sometimes it feels that all this stuff is very new, but actually it has had a lot of bedding in to our culture.

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