Neo-Luddism Rides Again

November 13, 2013 - 4:56 pm
Irradiated by LabRat

So, across various sources that I read in the last few days there have come angry reactions to this piece of psuedo-intellectual reactionary bloviation. Which doesn’t usually come hipster-flavored, but hey, it’s the digital age and anything is possible. Except, according to the title and premise of the piece, getting lost. But swiping at low-hanging fruit is still totally possible in any age and with any technology, so let’s give it one more look than it really deserves.

We can’t jump off bridges anymore because our iPhones will get ruined. We can’t take skinny dips in the ocean, because there’s no service on the beach and adventures aren’t real unless they’re on Instagram. Technology has doomed the spontaneity of adventure and we’re helping destroy it every time we Google, check-in, and hashtag.

Actually I don’t jump off bridges anymore (never did, truth be told) because it’s fucking dangerous. Those aren’t high-dive boards, they’re walkways over an unknown depth of water with an unknown amount of places to haul out and an unknown amount of sharp fucking rocks. I’ve done lots of things in various wild waterways, some adventurous and some not, but jumping off a bridge into one was something I recognized as just plain stupid long before I started carrying any sort of personal electronics around with me.

I’ve also never gone skinny-dipping in the ocean, although I’ve likewise spent some time on beaches, both before and after having service there was something it would even have been possible to care about. Why? I don’t like getting arrested, and even if I had a nudist beach available to me I’m entirely too conscious of what lives in the ocean and how much of it actually spends time close to the shoreline to be all that psychologically comfortable naked to it.

You know what has changed about my behavior on shorelines since I started carrying personal electronics any of the time (I do have a smartphone now, which I resisted for years, but I still turn off the ringer and stow it most of the time I leave the house unless I’m waiting for something alone.)? There is now one additional thing I leave wherever I put my wallet and keys. That’s it. That’s all. If you find the beach boring compared to your smartphone, you have other problems that have nothing whatsoever to do with Google or Instagram.

After this bit of inanity follows a bunch of stories about getting lost, some of them adventurous and exciting, and some of them experiences no one should miss unless they’ve suffered a traumatic brain injury. (Like losing his little brother in a busy city- something no parent or guardian would sign up to go through ever again.)

I’ve got a bunch of stories about getting lost, too. I’m one of those unfortunate individuals with no sense of direction whatsoever, a trait I inherited from both my parents, who also had no sense of direction. I don’t find being lost the least little bit romantic, mostly because it was a normal experience to me growing up and not in any way associated with young adult adventure. I’ve been lost in the woods on foot and in a car, stuck in a vehicle in deep mud or snow a couple of times because of a wrong turn taken trying to leave said woods, lost in a strange city on the wrong side of midnight and in the wrong damn neighborhood to be lost in while a young woman, lost in the empty gaps between cities in the West, lost when the weather presented some real dangers of exposure, lost without food, without water, and lost in more entertaining and hilarious settings. Occasionally it ended in a funny story or some bit of unexpected adventure, but mostly it ended with a lot of stress and cold and sometimes that delightful experience when you’re a small child of seeing real fear on your parents’ faces because they know your situation might not have a happy ending. I’ve had a lot of adventures I remember fondly, but pretty much all of them involved knowing at least roughly where I was fucking going and how to leave again.

I’ve also spent a lot of time eating on the road and in strange places. I’ve got stories about terrifying meals, having to pull over to the side of the road during a road trip so someone could puke after eating somewhere no one should, and a much more prosaic story about spending a number of years only eating in recognizable chain restaurants while traveling after hard lessons learned from those earlier experiences, unless I had a reliable voucher from someone local about where to eat.

I had a lot of fantastic experiences eating in small towns and on the road in the gulf coast south during college, because the biology and environmental sciences department, having to go on a lot of road trips for field trip and collection purposes, had an effective word-of-mouth network going for where to find the best hidden gems to eat. I still have memories of some of the best meals of my life from those times. It reawakened my sense of culinary adventure and made eating at chains somewhere new feel like a personal defeat.

Know what having small portable computers around me has allowed me to do? Repeat that experience everywhere. I can go anywhere there’s good food to be had with a pocketful of recommendations from chow hounds and road food enthusiasts across the nation, and I’m still having some of the best meals of my life that way, or at least something much better than chains and eons and light years better than food poisoning far from home.

I remember the time I picked up my girlfriend from her friend’s house in Massachusetts. She was going to school down in Georgia and this was the first time I’d seen her in months. “We’re back together…finally.” I tweeted, tagging both of our Twitter handles in the status. The flash on my iPhone annoys her and she asks me to put my phone away. I begrudgingly agree and I start to drive. I put my home address into the GPS and follow the voice. She asks me if I want to get lost with her. I ask her what she means and she tells me that she wants to get lost. I ask her where she wants to go and she shrugs. I tell her that there is an interesting looking coffee shop only 2.3 miles away and she sighs. I turn off the GPS and drive. A few minutes go by and I get antsy. I turn the GPS back on and follow the voice, she crosses her arms and is silent all the way back to my house.

Dude. Here is some free advice for you, since you apparently need it. She was not pissed that you didn’t get genuinely, running-out-of-gas, freezing-in-the-dark, scary-goddamn-neighborhood lost. She was pissed you wouldn’t put down your fucking phone and put your full attention on her, and more pissed that you couldn’t do that for even ten minutes without buckling.

You know what’s nice about putting down the damn phone and going somewhere that’s actually new? Being able to, if you need to, pick it back up again when you’re done and find your way back home. If you can’t take step one of that combination, the problem is not the alienating march of technology, it’s your complete and total inability to leave your comfort zone without being forced to by circumstances beyond your control.

I like being part of the most connected generation of all time BECAUSE it allows me to have adventures without major disaster or anxiety attack on the part of my loved ones. (Who tend to, as loved ones do, worry more about me than I do about myself, after experiences of me vanishing from the face of the earth for hours or a day after I said I’d be home.) I love being able to Wikipedia the old building I’m in and find out what makes it special, that I’d never have known otherwise. I love being able to eat truly new things I’d never have tried otherwise- because I’ve had turn-you-inside-out food poisoning while in the middle of a car trip before and IT FUCKING SUCKS.

I suspect what the author really misses isn’t being lost, it’s being young and having a sense of adventure about the world because all of it really is new and having the freedom to explore it at will is too. But I’m me and he’s him, and I can’t speak for him. I can, however, speak for my portion of the same generation, that hasn’t experienced any alienation whatsoever- and is still entirely capable of engaging with non-digital experiences without a competition.

8 Responses to “Neo-Luddism Rides Again”

  1. Toastrider Says:

    Wow. You know, my skill with women is fairly mediocre and I think I’d have picked up on the not-too-subtle hints there.

    I’m kind of bumfuzzled at his confusion too. Unless he’s got the direction sense of an inebriated sloth, he should be able to figure out roughly where he’s going and where to. And when it comes time to head back, just run the GPS to doublecheck your route and go home. What, does he need someone to hold his hand when he crosses the street too?

    Depressing, really. It’s not like a fucking orienteering course (and I was -terrible- at orienteering).

  2. bluntobject Says:

    I like being part of the most connected generation of all time BECAUSE it allows me to have adventures without major disaster or anxiety attack on the part of my loved ones.

    So much this.

  3. Rob Says:

    If you feel dependent upon and alienated because of your smart phone, the problem is you, not the phone.

    This goes back to the same disconnect that is behind most efforts of gun control. It is only a tool, a thing, an inanimate object. Any agency or morality it has is offloaded onto it by its user and is not an inherent property of that thing. People not understanding that results in a lot of dumbfuckery, such as that article.

  4. Will Brown Says:

    Fear. More importantly, the boy’s inability to function despite his feelings.

    As long as Mommy, or Siri or some disembodied “voice” is giving him direction over the phone he can sublimate his fear onto that “personality”. Without that he has to think and decide through the filtering influence of his fear, which he is plainly incapable of doing without extreme necessity (to the point of being willing to knowingly fail his girlfriends very minor shit-test).

    It isn’t the tool he uses to assuage his fear, it’s that he refuses to overcome his fear on his own, without resorting to external support. I like my smart phone too, but I sort of resent it’s designed level of intrusion into the non-communication portions of my life. This fellow’s going to have to achieve some measure of independence from his support mechanisms if he hopes to be thought of by others as anything more than a foolish child.

  5. Old NFO Says:

    Well said LR, and I can’t help but wonder what he would have done growing up when I did, without phones, interstates or anything ‘easy’… When I was 15 I drove across Texas by myself, sleeping in the car on the side of the road a couple of nights, to get to my Uncle’s ranch… The only map was an Esso roadmap, and scribbled directions the last few miles to the ranch. But I thought nothing about it, because I’d been taught to be INDEPENDENT!!!

  6. Sigivald Says:

    If you find the beach boring compared to your smartphone, you have other problems that have nothing whatsoever to do with Google or Instagram.

    I found the beach boring before smartphones, and that hasn’t really changed.

    Might be that around here the beach is cold and windy all the time.

  7. Tam Says:

    I am fortunate to have a pretty darn good sense of direction. My mother was appalled when, at the age of 21, I set off from Atlanta on a motorcycle to the family reunion in Kansas City without a road map. I pointed out to her that I had done fairly well in geography and that as long as the names of the cities on the big green signs were ones that I knew were between ATL and KCK, I would be on course.

    However, it would have been ABSOLUTELY SWELL to have a smartphone to help me pick out a better motel in Memphis where I wouldn’t almost get my bike stolen in the middle of the night at the halfway point of the trip up there. 😀

  8. aebhel Says:

    If he was a high school junior in 2004, then I’m only a couple of years older than him, and somehow I manage to put my damn phone/tablet down and interact with the human beings in front of me all the time. And I would consider myself an internet addict; I’m one of those people who needs constant stimulation. When I was a kid, that meant carrying a stack of books around with me and reading every chance I get. Now that I’m an adult, I can get the same effect with a tablet, which means about 100% less backaches from wearing a forty pound backpack everywhere I go.

    And yeah. I grew up in a very rural area, and even so, most of my experiences of getting really lost are less ‘what is this charming country lane?’ and more ‘oh, fuck, that was my freeway exit, now I’ve got twenty miles and a tollbooth before I can turn around’. It’s not something I miss, you know?

    (Also, in ancient times, people carried these things called ‘road maps’ with them in their vehicles, because getting totally lost in a strange place has never actually been seen as a good thing.)