On a recent blustery Sunday, a group of teenagers gathered on the steps of the Central Library at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn to launch the weekly Luddite Club, a high school group that promotes a lifestyle free from social media and technology. . As a dozen teenagers made their way to Prospect Park, they hid their iPhones or, in the case of the most devout members, flip phones that some had decorated with stickers and nail polish.
They marched up the hill toward their usual spot, a mound of dirt away from the crowd in the park. Among them was Odille Zexter-Kaiser, a senior at Edward R. Murrow High School in Midwood, who trudged through Doc Martens leaves and mismatched wool socks.
“A little frowned upon if someone doesn’t show up,” Odille said. “We’re here every Sunday, rain or shine, even snow.” We don’t keep in touch with each other, so you have to show up.”
After the club members gathered the logs to form a circle, they sat down and retreated into a bubble of peace.
Some drew in sketchbooks. Others are painted with a watercolor set. One of them closed his eyes and listened to the wind. Many read intently, carrying Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Art Spiegelman’s Maus II and Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy in their handbags. Club members cite freelance writers like Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Kerouac as heroes, and they like works condemning technology, such as Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano. Arthur, the bespectacled PBS aardvark, is their mascot.
“A lot of us have read this book, ‘Into the Wild,'” said Essex Street Academy senior Lola Shub, referring to Jon Krakauer’s 1996 book. a non-fiction book about Chris McCandless, a nomad who died trying to live off the land. Alaskan wilderness. “We all have this theory that we’re not just for buildings and work. And that guy lived life. Real life. Social media and phones are not real life.
“When I got the flip phone, everything changed instantly,” continued Lola. “I started using my brain. It made me observe myself as a person. I also tried to write a book. It is now 12 pages long.
Briefly the club members discussed how their Luddite evangelism was going. Founded last year by another Murrow High School student, Logan Lane, the club is named after Ned Ludd, a folkloric 18th-century English textile man who allegedly destroyed the mechanized loom and inspired others to take his name and rebel against industrialization.
“I just had my first successful Luddite meeting in Beacon,” said Biruk Watling, a senior at Manhattan’s Beacon High School, who uses a green-painted flip phone with a photo of Fugees-era Lauryn Hill taped to it.
“I hear there’s talk in Brooklyn tech that it’s going viral,” said someone else.
Several members took a moment to extol the Luddite benefits.
Jameson Butler, a student wearing a Black Flag T-shirt who was carving a piece of wood with a pocket knife, explained, “I’m shaking out who I want to be friends with. Now I need to work on keeping the friendship. Some reached out when I got off my iPhone and said, “I don’t like texting you anymore because your messages are green.” That told me a lot.”
Vee De La Cruz, who had a copy of WEB Du Bois’ book Souls of Black Folk, said: “You post something on social media, you don’t get enough likes, and then you don’t feel good. This should not happen to anyone. Being at this club reminds me that we all live on a floating rock and that everything will be okay.
A few days before the gathering, after 3 p.m. dismissal from Murrow High School, a flood of students poured out of the building and into the street. Most of them were looking at their smartphones, but not Logan, the 17-year-old founder of the Luddite Club.
A block away from the school, she was sitting at a Chock full o’Nuts coffee shop. She wore a tight corduroy jacket and quilted jeans that she sewed herself using a Singer sewing machine.
“We have trouble recruiting members,” she said, “but we don’t mind.” We are all connected for this unique reason. To be in the Luddite club requires a certain level of misfit. She added: “But I wasn’t always a Luddite, of course.”
It all started during the lockdown, she said, when her use of social media took a disturbing turn.
“I became completely consumed,” she said. “I could not no Upload a good photo if I have one. And I had this online persona of, “I don’t care,” but I actually did. I was definitely still watching everything.
Finally, too burnt out to scroll through yet another perfect Instagram selfie, she deleted the app.
“But it wasn’t enough,” she said. “So I put my phone in the box.”
She first experienced city life as a teenager without an iPhone. She borrowed novels from the library and read them alone in the park. She became fascinated with graffiti while riding the subway, then fell in with teenagers who taught her how to paint in a freight train yard in Queens. And she started waking up without an alarm clock at 7 in the morning, and at midnight she no longer fell asleep with the phone on. Once, as she later wrote in a text called The Luddite Manifesto, she dreamed of throwing her iPhone into the Govan Canal.
While Logan’s parents appreciated her metamorphosis, especially the fact that she regularly came home for dinner to talk about her wanderings, they worried that they couldn’t check on their daughter on Friday night. After she conveniently lost the smartphone they asked her to take to Paris for a summer abroad program, they were distraught. Finally, they insisted that she at least start carrying a flip phone.
“I still long for not having a phone,” she said. “My parents are very addicted. My mom got on Twitter and I could see how it tore her up. But I guess I also like it because I feel a little superior to them.
At an all-ages punk show, she met a teenager with a flip phone, and they reconciled over their worldviews. “She was only a freshman, and I couldn’t believe how well she was reading,” Logan said. “We walked in the park with apple cider and donuts, sharing our Luddite experiences. This was the first meeting of the Luddite Club. This early countryman, Jameson Butler, remains a member.
When school started again, Logan began preaching his gospel in the fluorescent-lit halls of Murrow. First, she convinced Odille to go Luddite. Then Max. Then Clem. She hung homemade posters of Ned Ludd on the hallways and classroom walls.
At the club fair, her recruiting table was silent all day, but little by little the group began to grow. Today the club has about 25 members and the Murrow branch meets at the school every Tuesday. It welcomes students who haven’t given up their iPhones yet and challenges them to ignore their devices for an hour-long meeting (so die-hards don’t frown). At Sunday park gatherings, Luddites often set up hammocks to read in nice weather.
When Logan told the story of the club’s origins over almond croissants in a coffee shop, new member Julian froze. Although he hasn’t switched to a flip phone yet, he said he’s already benefited from the group message. He then told Logan about one student’s criticism of the club.
“One kid said it was a classic,” he said. “I think the club is nice because I have a break from the phone, but I understand their point. Some of us need technology to be included in society. Some of us need a phone.
“We’re getting a response,” Logan replied. “The argument I’ve heard is that we’re a bunch of rich kids and expecting everyone to give up their phones is privileged.
After Julian left, Logan admitted that she had struggled with the issue and that the topic had sparked a heated debate among the club members.
“When I heard the classical thing, I was really disappointed and almost ready to say goodbye to the club,” she said. “But I talked to my advisor and he told me that most revolutions start with hardworking people like Che Guevara. We don’t expect everyone to have a flip phone. We’re just seeing the issue of mental health and screen use.
Logan needed to get home to meet the teacher, so she went to the subway. As her senior year draws to a close and the pressures of adulthood loom, she also ponders what her Luddite ways of graduating high school might mean.
“If now is the only time I have to do this in my life, then I will,” she said. “But I really hope it doesn’t end.”
She stepped into her family’s townhouse on the leafy street of Cobble Hill, where she was greeted by a golden jewel named Phoebe and hurried to her room. The decor reflected her interests, with stacks of books, graffitied walls and, in addition to a sewing machine, a manual Royal typewriter and a Sony cassette player.
Downstairs in the living room, her father, Seth Lane, an IT executive, sat by the fireplace and offered thoughts on his daughter’s journey.
“I’m proud of her and what the club represents,” he said. “But there’s also a parent’s part here, and we don’t know where our child is.” You are now following your children. You watch them. I guess it’s a bit Orwellian, but we are a generation of helicopter parents. So when she got rid of the iPhone, it caused us problems at first.
He had heard of the Luddite club hands on questions of privilege.
“Well, it’s classic to get people to have smartphones too, right?” Mr. Lane said. “I think it’s a great conversation they’re having. There is no right answer.”
A few days later, as the Sunday Luddite Club meeting drew to a close in Prospect Park, several teenagers put away their sketchbooks and dog-eared paperbacks while others extinguished the tiny bonfire they had built. It was Clementine Karlin-Pustilnik’s 17th birthday, and to celebrate, the club wanted to take her out to dinner at a Thai restaurant on Fort Hamilton Parkway.
Night was creeping into the park as teenagers walked in the cold and traded high school gossip. But when the subject of college admissions came up, there seemed to be a note of tension in the air. Club members exchanged news about schools they applied to across the country. Odille reported that he has committed to the State University of New York.
“I could totally start a Luddite club there,” said Elena Scherer, a Murrow senior.
They took the expressway down a lonely path with no park lights. Their conversation heated up as they discussed Lewis Carroll’s poetry, Ravel’s piano pieces, and the evils of TikTok. Elena pointed to the night sky.
“Look,” she said. “It’s waxy shit. That means it’s going to get bigger.”
As they marched in the dark, only the moonlight shone on their faces.