Engage against the machine?

The handwritten posters plastered around Hyde Park read: “4:00 Friday. The Point.” At 4:15pm the five people who had shown up to Promontory Point expecting to find an organization of technology-free “Neo-Luddites” were getting restless, thinking they had fallen for a hoax. When UofC student Robert Henderson finally arrived, sporting a tweed pageboy cap and a copy of Pale Fire in the pocket of his peacoat, he was half-smiling at the turnout: “I was wondering what would form if I showed up a little late. I don’t bring anything besides questions.” An older man noted that the sun would soon set, but Henderson wasn’t too concerned: “I thought that would be another obstacle.” It soon became apparent, though, that creating a community united against technology would have enough of its own challenges already.

Inspired to found the group by “a misreading of Emerson,” Robert brought with him an assortment of materials taken from the “Free Books” bin in front of Powell’s Bookstore that he hoped would be able to assist the group in compiling its founding documents. He also welcomed discussion of the organization’s name: “I said Neo-Luddite, but I thought we could define it here, for ourselves.”

“Devices divide us, our voices unite us,” proclaimed the posters, but on Friday, it was differing expectations that limited the conversation–not gadgets. One attendee expressed frustration with the constant connectivity of our age, convinced that developments like Facebook actually hurt human interaction. As a solution, Henderson suggested “turning off our computers on certain days or to only use cell phones when traveling.” Only Henderson seemed to be seriously considering such a lifestyle change. “Back when I had a plan for this thing, I knew I couldn’t realistically expect others to become hermits,” he admitted. When asked if his intention was to make personal adjustments or to transform the system, Henderson replied, “I don’t think I can control the political stuff; I just want to live an interesting life. I’m looking down the road and I don’t think that’s going to be possible.”

The group eventually parted without exchanging cell phone numbers or email addresses. Henderson suggested communicating through handwritten posters, warning, “If we use any means besides pen and paper to communicate, people will accuse us of being hypocritical.” Even without the electronics though, there remained a failure to connect. (Rachel Lazar)