Tech-phobic teens lead an alternative lifestyle – News

Luddite Club is a high school group that promotes a lifestyle of self-liberation from social media and technology. The club, founded last year by a student, is named after Ned Ludd, the folkloric 18th-century English textile worker who allegedly smashed a power loom, inspiring others to take his name and protest industrialization.

Tech-phobic teens lead an alternative lifestyle - News 2c6f 5578 a4b6 22aef4a71440&function=cropresize&type=preview&source=false&q=75&crop w=0.99999&crop h=0

By Alex Vadukul

Published: Thu 29 Dec 2022, 13:27

On a recent Sunday, a group of teenagers gathered on the steps of the Central Library in Brooklyn to kick off the weekly meeting of the Luddite Club, a high school group that promotes a lifestyle of self-liberation from social media and technology. As the dozen teens made their way to Prospect Park, they hid their iPhones or, in the case of the most devoted members, their flip phones, which some had decorated with stickers and nail polish.

They walked up a hill to their usual spot, a mound of dirt away from the crowds of the park. Among them was Odille Zexter-Kaiser, a senior at Edward R. Murrow High School, who walked through sheets in Doc Martens and mismatched wool socks.

“It’s a bit frowned upon if someone doesn’t show up,” Odille said. “We are here every Sunday, rain or shine, even snow. We don’t keep in touch, so you have to introduce yourself.”

After the club members gathered logs together to form a circle, they sat down and retreated into a bubble of serenity.

Some drew in sketchbooks. Others painted with a watercolor kit. One of them closed his eyes to listen to the wind. Many were perusing: the books in their satchels included Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment,” Art Spiegelman’s “Maus II,” and Boethius’ “The Consolation of Philosophy.” Club members cite rakish writers like Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Kerouac as heroes, and they like works that condemn technology, like Kurt Vonnegut’s “Player Piano.” Arthur, the bespectacled PBS anteater, is their mascot.

“A lot of us have read this book called ‘Into the Wild,'” said Lola Shub, a senior at Essex Street Academy, referring to Jon Krakauer’s 1996 nonfiction book about Chris McCandless, a homeless man who died while trying to live off the land in the Alaskan wilderness. “We all have this theory that we are not meant to be confined to buildings and work. And that guy was experiencing life. Real life. Social networks and phones are not real life.

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“When I got my flip phone things changed instantly,” Lola continued. “I started using my brain. He made me observe myself as a person. I’ve been trying to write a book, too. It’s like 12 pages now.”

The club members briefly discussed how the spread of their Luddite gospel was going. Founded last year by another Murrow High School student, Logan Lane, the club is named after Ned Ludd, the folkloric 18th-century English textile worker who allegedly smashed a mechanized loom, inspiring others to take his name and riot against the industrialization.

“I just had the first successful Luddite gathering at Beacon,” said Biruk Watling, a senior at Beacon High School in Manhattan, who uses a green-painted flip phone with a picture of Fugees-era Lauryn Hill affixed to it.

“I’ve heard talk of it spreading at Brooklyn Tech,” someone else said.

Some members took a moment to extol the benefits of becoming a Luddite.

Jameson Butler, a student in a Black Flag T-shirt who was carving a piece of wood with a razor, explained: “I’ve eliminated who I want to be friends with. Now I have a hard time keeping friends. Some came up when I pulled out the iPhone and said, “I don’t like texting with you anymore because your texts are green.” That told me a lot.”

Vee De La Cruz, who had a copy of WEB Du Bois’ “The Souls of Black Folk,” said: “You post something on social media, you don’t get enough likes, then you don’t feel good about yourself. That’s not should have to happen to anyone.

“Being at this club reminds me that we are all living on a floating rock and everything is going to be okay.”

A few days before the meeting, after the 3:00 pm dismissal at Murrow High School, a rush of students poured out of the building onto the street. Many of them were looking at their smartphones, but not Logan Lane, the 17-year-old founder of the Luddite Club.

Down the block from the school, he sat down for an interview at a Chock full o’Nuts coffee shop. She was wearing a loose corduroy jacket and quilted jeans that she had sewn herself on a Singer sewing machine.

“We have trouble recruiting members,” he said, “but we don’t really care. All of us have come together for this one cause. To be in the Luddite Club, there’s a level of being a misfit.” She added: “But I wasn’t always a Luddite, of course.”

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It all started during the lockdown, he said, when his use of social media took a worrying turn.

“I completely consumed myself,” he said. “I couldn’t post a good photo if I had one. And he had this ‘I don’t care’ online personality, but I actually did care. I was definitely still seeing everything.”

Eventually, too tired to scroll past a more perfect Instagram selfie, she deleted the app.

“But that wasn’t enough,” he said. “So I put my phone in a box.”

For the first time, he experienced city life as a teenager without an iPhone. She borrowed novels from the library and read them alone in the park. She began admiring graffiti when she was riding the subway, then she met some teenagers who taught her how to spray paint at a freight train yard in Queens. And she started waking up without an alarm clock at 7 am, and she no longer fell asleep to the glow of her phone at midnight. Once, as she later wrote in a text titled “Luddite Manifesto,” she fantasized about throwing her iPhone at the Gowanus channel.

While Logan’s parents appreciated her metamorphosis, particularly as she regularly returned home for dinner to recount her adventures, they were distraught over not being able to see their daughter on a Friday night. And after he conveniently lost the smartphone he’d been asked to take to Paris for a summer program abroad, they were distraught. Finally, they insisted that he at least start carrying a flip phone.

“I still long to not have any phones,” he said. “My parents are so addicted. My mom went on Twitter, and I’ve watched her rip it out of her. But I guess I like her too, because I feel a little superior to them.

Today the club has around 25 members and the Murrow branch meets at the school every Tuesday. Welcome students who haven’t yet given up their iPhones by offering them the challenge to ignore their devices for the hour-long meeting (lest they elicit scowls from hardliners). At Sunday park gatherings, Luddites often set up hammocks for reading in fine weather.

As Logan was recounting the club’s origin story over an almond croissant in the cafeteria, a new member, Julian, stopped by. Although he hadn’t yet made the switch to a flip phone, he said he was already benefiting from the group’s message. He then taunted Logan regarding a criticism a student had made about the club.

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“A child said that he is classist,” he said. “I think the club is nice, because I have a break from my phone, but I understand your point. Some of us need technology to be included in society. Some of us need a phone.”

“We have a backlash,” Logan responded. “The argument I’ve heard is that we’re a bunch of rich kids and expecting everyone to drop their phones is privileged.”

After Julian left, Logan admitted that he had struggled with the matter and that the issue had sparked a heated debate among the club members.

“I was really bummed when I heard about classista and almost ready to say goodbye to the club,” she said. “However, I spoke to my adviser and he told me that most revolutions actually start with people from industrial backgrounds, like Che Guevara.

“We don’t expect everyone to have a flip phone. We only see a problem with mental health and the use of screens.

On a tree-lined street in the Cobble Hill neighborhood, she entered her family home, where she was greeted by a golden doodle named Phoebe, and ran upstairs to her room. The decor reflected her interests: there were stacks of books, painted walls, and, in addition to the sewing machine, a Royal manual typewriter and a Sony cassette player.

In the downstairs living room, her father, Seth Lane, an executive who works in information technology, sat by a fireplace and shared his thoughts on his daughter’s journey.

“I’m proud of her and what the club stands for,” he said. “But there is also the part of the parents, and we do not know where our son is. You follow your children now. You track them. He’s a bit Orwellian, I guess, but we’re the generation of helicopter parents. So when he got rid of the iPhone, that was a problem for us at first.”

He had heard of the Luddite Club’s hand-wringing over matters of privilege.

“Well, it’s classist to make people need to have smartphones too, right?” Lane said. “I think it’s a great conversation that they’re having. There is no right answer.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times