February 8, 2023

On a recent sunny Sunday, a group of teenagers gathered on the steps of the Central Library in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza to start the weekly meeting of the Luddites Club, a high school that promotes a lifestyle of self-liberation from social media and technology. Group. When a dozen or so teenagers headed to Prospect Park, they stashed their iPhones — or, for the most devout members, their flip phones, some with stickers and fingernails Oil.

They climbed a hill and headed for their usual spot, a mound away from the crowds of the park. Among them was Odille Zexter-Kaiser, a senior at Edward R. Murrow High School in Midwood, trudging through the leaves in Doc Martens and mismatched wool socks.

“It’s 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 connect very often, 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 tranquility.

Some people draw in sketchbooks. Others painted with a watercolor kit. One of them closed his eyes and listened to the wind. Many were absorbed in reading—books in their schoolbags included Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Art Spiegelman’s The Rat King and Boethius’s Philosophical Consolation.Club members hailed bohemian writers like Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Kerouac as heroes, and they loved Works that condemn technology, such as Kurt Vonnegut’s “Player Piano.” The bespectacled PBS aardvark Arthur is their mascot.

“A lot of us have read this book called ‘Into the Wild,'” he said laura shube, a senior at Essex Street College, referring to Jon Krakauer’s 1996 non-fiction book about nomad Chris McCandless Books, who died while trying to make a living on the land of the Alaskan wilderness. “We all have this theory that we shouldn’t just be limited to buildings and jobs. That person is experiencing life. Real life. Social media and phones aren’t real life.”

“That changed immediately when I got my flip phone,” Lola continued. “I started using my brain. It made me observe myself as a person. I’ve also been trying to write a book. It’s like 12 pages now.”

In brief, club members discuss the spread of their Luddite gospel. Founded last year by another Murrow High student, Logan Laneclub with Nieder Lutherthe legendary 18th-century British weaver who is said to have smashed the mechanized loom, inspires other In his name and riot against industrialization.

“I just had my first successful Luddite meeting at Beacon,” said Biruk Watling, a senior at Beacon High School in Manhattan, using a green-painted flip phone with a Fugees-era sticker on it. Photo by Lauryn Hill.

“I heard people talking about it spreading at Brooklyn Tech,” said others.

Some members took a moment to extol the benefits of joining the Luddites.

Jameson Butler, a student in a Black Flag T-shirt who was carving a block of wood with a pocketknife, explained: “I’ve eliminated the people I wanted to be friends with. Now I It takes work to maintain friendships. When I put down my iPhone, some people reach out and say, “I don’t want to text you anymore because your texts are green. “That told me a lot.”

Vee De La Cruz, who owns a copy of WEB Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk, said: “You post something on social media and you don’t get enough likes, Then you feel bad about yourself. It shouldn’t happen to anyone. Being in this club reminds me that we’re all living on a floating rock and everything will be alright.”

A few days before the party, after Murrow High School closed at 3 p.m., a large crowd of students poured out of the building into the street. Many of them are staring at their smartphones, but not Logan, the 17-year-old founder of the Luddite Club.

Down the block from the school, she sits at the Chock full o’Nuts coffee shop for an interview. She wore a baggy corduroy jacket and quilted jeans she made herself on a Singer sewing machine.

“We had trouble recruiting members,” she said, “but we didn’t mind. We were all united in this unique cause. To be in the Luddite club was somehow out of place.” She Adding: “Of course, I wasn’t always a Luddite.”

She said it all started during the lockdown, when her social media use took a disturbing turn.

“I was completely consumed,” she said. “I can not no If I have a good photo, please post it. My internet personality is “I don’t care,” but I do. I’m definitely still watching everything. “

Eventually, she was too exhausted to scroll through a perfect Instagram selfie anymore, so she deleted the app.

“But it’s not enough,” she said. “So I put the phone in a box.”

This is her first experience of city life without an iPhone. She borrowed a novel from the library and read it alone in the park. She started admiring graffiti while riding the subway, then met some teenagers at a freight train station in Queens who taught her how to spray paint. She started waking up without an alarm clock at 7 a.m. and no longer falling asleep to the light of her phone in the middle of the night. At one point, as she later wrote in an essay titled “The Luddite Manifesto,” she fantasized about throwing her iPhone into the Gowanus Canal.

While Logan’s parents appreciate her transformation, especially as she often returns home for dinner to talk about her vagrancy, they are distressed that they won’t be able to see their daughter on Friday nights. They’re distraught after she accidentally loses the smartphone they sent her to Paris for a summer abroad program. Eventually, they insisted that she at least start carrying a flip phone.

“I still yearn for not having a phone at all,” she said. “My parents were so addicted. My mom was on Twitter and I saw it tearing her apart. But I guess I liked it too because I felt a little bit superior to them.”

At an all-ages punk show, she meets a teenager with a flip phone, and they bond over their respective worldviews. “She was just a freshman, and I couldn’t believe how well she could read,” Logan said. “We went for walks in the park with cider and donuts and shared our Luddite experiences. It was the first meeting of the Luddite club.” Jameson Butler, an early compatriot, ) remains a member.

After school started, Logan began preaching her gospel in Murrow’s fluorescent-lit hall. First, she convinces Odile to go Luddite. And then Max. Then there’s Clem. She hung homemade posters of Ned Luther’s story on the walls of her hallways and classrooms.

At a society fair, there was no movement on her conscription table for a whole day, but gradually, the number began to increase. Today, the club has about 25 members, and the Murrow chapter meets every Tuesday at the school. It welcomes students who haven’t given up on their iPhones, offering them the challenge of ignoring their devices during hour-long meetings (lest they draw the glares of diehards). At Sunday park parties, Luddites often set up hammocks to read when the weather is nice.

While Logan is telling the club’s origin story over an almond croissant at the coffee shop, new member Julian enters. While he has yet to switch to a flip phone, he said he has benefited from the group’s message. He then pokes fun at Logan about a student’s criticism of the club.

“A kid said it was classicist,” he said. “I think the club is good because I can put my phone down for a while, but I see what they mean. Some of us need technology to fit into society. Some of us need a phone.”

“We’ve had a lot of backlash,” Logan replied. “What I’ve heard is that we’re a bunch of rich kids and it’s a privilege to want everyone to put down their phones.”

After Julian left, Logan admitted she had struggled with the matter, a topic that sparked some heated debate among club members.

“When I hear about classism, I’m really devastated and almost ready to say goodbye to the club,” she said. “However, I spoke to my mentor and he told me that most revolutions actually start with people from hardworking backgrounds, like Che Guevara. We don’t want everyone to have a flip phone. We’re just seeing problems with mental health and screen use. “

Logan needed to go home to meet her mentor, so she went to the subway. As senior year draws to a close and the pressures of adulthood loom, she’s also pondering what leaving high school might mean for her Luddite ways.

“If this is the only time in my life that I do this, then I’ll make it count,” she said. “But I really hope it doesn’t end.”

As she walked into her family’s townhouse on a tree-lined street in Cobble Hill, she was greeted by a golden retriever named Phoebe before rushing upstairs , back to his room. The decor reflects her interests: stacks of books, walls covered in graffiti, and besides the sewing machine, there’s a manual Royal typewriter and a Sony cassette player.

In the downstairs living room, her father, Seth Lane, an IT executive, sat by the fireplace and offered his thoughts on his daughter’s journey.

“I’m so proud of her and everything the club stands for,” he said. “But there’s also the parent part of it, we don’t know where our kids are. You follow your kids now. You stalk them. Kind of Orwellian, I thought, but we are the generation of helicopter parents. So when she got rid of the iPhone, that initially caused us problems. “

He had heard the Luddite clubs wrestling with privilege.

“Well, it’s classist to make people want smartphones too, right?” Mr Lane said. “I thought the conversation between them was great. There’s no right answer.”

A few days later, as the Sunday meeting of the Luddite Club drew to a close in Prospect Park, some teenagers put away their sketchbooks and dog-eared paperbacks while others stamped out the small fires they had lit. It was Clementine Karlin-Pustilnik’s 17th birthday, and to celebrate, the club wanted to take her to dinner at a Thai restaurant on Fort Hamilton Parkway.

As night falls in the park, teenagers take walks in the cold and exchange high school gossip. But when it comes to the topic of college admissions, there seems to be tension in the air. Club members exchange updates on schools they’ve applied to across the country. Odille reported that he attended SUNY Purchase.

“I bet you could start a Luddite club there,” said Elena Scherer, a Morrow senior.

They took a shortcut and took a back road with no park lights. Their conversation comes alive as they discuss the poetry of Lewis Carroll, Ravel’s piano pieces and the ills of TikTok. Elena pointed to the night sky.

“Look,” she said. “That’s a waxy bump. That means it’s going to get bigger.”

As they marched in the dark, the only light that shone on their faces was the moonlight.

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