by Henry Lane Hull
For the past week I have been contemplating the great contribution to the advancement of civilization made two centuries ago by the Luddites. They were a sect in England that opposed mechanization of the mills for fear that such “progress” would cost them the loss of their skills as well as the jobs that emanated therefrom.
Their name came from a fictional character, Ned Ludd, who allegedly smashed his mill’s stocking frames in 1779. The movement reached its peak in the second decade of the 19th century when factory workers joined in destroying their equipment, until they ultimately were suppressed by the government.
In modern times the term has come to designate those who dislike modern contraptions, preferring the old ways of doing business. My current kinship with the Luddites has come from the constant problems I have had with the computer shutting down when I need to send an email, search a fact, or most directly, write a column.
Almost everyone today has come to depend on the technological achievements of the last several decades to conduct the routine business of daily living. We cannot “exist” without our cellphones keeping us plugged into the world around us, or our instant fact-check abilities at the computer, or interpersonal communication via email. In school, learning how to operate the computer has taken precedence over mastering the art of Spencerian penmanship.
For many years I resisted the urge to join in the new wave, writing letters and columns on my ever-faithful 1970 Smith-Corona electric typewriter. I liked it because when using it, I was in charge. When I hit a key, that was what appeared on the paper. I welcomed the introduction of correcting paper that allowed me to fix a typo without having to remove the sheet of paper. I could correct the error, and then replace the paper in correct alignment with its previous position. Granted, whatever mistakes were made, were my mistakes, and not some electronic impulse from the “Cloud” of cyberspace.
For decades my good friend Richard Pruitt kept the machine working, leaving me the sole responsibility of buying an occasional new ribbon. As I write quite a bit, the intervals between ribbon purchases were short, but, again, thoroughly manageable.
Twenty-six years ago all that system came to a tumultuous halt when my Good Wife, the quintessential computer whiz, and I committed matrimony. The new order’s initial step was her bringing the first computer into our home. Within minutes I am certain that she recognized the shocking fact that she had married a Luddite.
Although from my years of studying and teaching history I still could rattle off the names and dates of the Russian Emperors and Empresses, as well as the seven Electors of the Holy Roman Empire, not to mention the six wives of Henry VIII, I was dumfounded by the new machine. Gradually, and patiently, she undertook to teach me how to live in the new world order.
The editor and staff of the Rappahannock Record I am sure collectively rejoiced when I submitted the first column by email, thereby eliminating their having to retype and set the entry manually. Slowly, friends came to experience the same astonishment when they received my messages. They perceived that the last vestiges of the Middle Ages had passed into history.
In large measure I was able to adjust and move on with life, resulting in my forgetting about the dear old Luddites, now thinking of myself as a modern person. Then the crash came about 10 days ago, resulting in my wanting to import from some English museum one of the steel bars the Luddites used on the mill machinery for me to use on the computer. For financial reasons, and at the behest of my Good Wife, I did not pursue that option, and today I am typing once again on the computer, and hoping that these words will find their way to the editor’s desk via the internet. If they do not, I shall return to the practice of Ludditism.