Guest Post: Confessions of a Modern Luddite

Now that my son is in middle school, it’s getting close to the point where he will need his own cellular phone.  Unlike his younger sisters, he has yet to ask for one but there have been some times when having his own phone would have been handy.  Thus far, when he has had to stay after school for extracurricular activities, he has been able to call us from the office or by borrowing a friend’s phone, but I don’t believe that is a good long-term solution.  Clearly, it’s time he had one but I just can’t force myself to go out and get it.

I suspect my resistance has its roots in the past.  When I was growing up, a telephone was a household appliance and the very idea that each family member should carry their own would have been ludicrous.  Phone service at my house was strictly utilitarian.  Our rotary telephone, in “refrigerator white,” sat atop the yellow pages on kitchen counter and was wired into the wall via a cord that was less than two feet long.  Its position demanded that you stand to use it and, because of its location in the working center of our busy household, calls were necessarily brief.

The term “cellular radio” first came to my attention in 1982 when I overheard my algebra teacher, Mr. Stangvik, talking about investments with some of the smarter students before class.  The technology, he told them, would soon put a telephone in everyone’s car and, eventually, their pockets.  His explanation of this brighter future was earnest and logical but, to be honest, I wasn’t entirely sold on the idea.  I had seen car phones on TV, after all, and while they seemed useful for big wheels like McGarrett on Hawaii Five-0 and for Major Anthony Nelson who was playing some character on Dallas, I could see no reason why plain old Thom Kreutzer from Snohomish, WA would ever need one.  The very notion seemed silly, so I filed the idea in my mental waste basket and I went on with my life.

But Mr. Stangvik was right.  Just five years after he first mentioned them, I found myself trying to sell what were then called “car phones” as a part of my job at Schuck’s Auto Supply.  Five years after that, I took possession of a huge grey handset that I used exclusively for emergencies during my father’s cancer treatment, but, after my father passed, my need for constant communication disappeared and I quickly cancelled the service.  I lived happily without a cell phone for almost another decade before I found myself living in Japan and was, once again, compelled to get one – this time for work.  It has been mostly due to my wife’s insistence that I have continued to carry one since.

What Mr. Stangvik didn’t know, and what I could never have understood even if he had known to tell us about it, was the way that, once something called the internet was invented, the cell phone would go on to utterly transform the way society accesses information.  Had you told 16 year old me that, one day, you could hold an entry point to virtually all of humanity’s knowledge in your hand and that you could freely skip through it while shoving French fries in your face at the local Burger King, I would have thought you were insane.  I simply could not have imagined it and would have put the idea firmly alongside invisibility, interstellar travel and eternal youth in the realm of science fiction.

But today, so far into the future that the once far off and fantastic year 2000 is well and gone in life’s rearview mirror, things that I once would have thought to be science fiction are perfectly normal.  What hasn’t changed, however is me and, much like the day I first heard Mr. Stangvik mention them, I remain essentially unconvinced that a cellular phone is a necessity.  Still, I suppose the cell phone my son needs really isn’t that different than my parents’ old rotary phone in that it‘s a useful tool for a specific job.  Having one will make all our lives easier and isn’t that what technology is for?  I might not like it, but I suppose it’s time to join the new millennium get him one.

37 Replies to “Guest Post: Confessions of a Modern Luddite”

  1. Bigtruckseriesreview

    I am absolutely convinced that students in school SHOULD NOT HAVE SMARTPHONES.


    #1 are a high expense and repeating expense (monthly) for the parents. Make them get a job to afford one themselves.

    #2 smartphones are a distraction, 24/7, and reduce the amount of actual disciplined learning that takes place in the classroom.

    #3 Although smartphones allow revolutionized access to information, they also allow revolutionized access to faulty information and information the student isn’t disciplined enough to handle.

    When I was a kid, I’d have to sneak a peak in porn magazines and VHS tapes of porn were contraband.

    NOW: you can access xhamster on Nintendo Switch and Xbox One. smartphones have even easier access – on the go – for nonstop porn.

    #4 Access without DISCIPLINE.

    I’m not a luddite. I just feel DISCIPLINE is important. Otherwise these modern kids wield that information with the irresponsibility they’d wield their father’s gun.

    I don’t even need to mention the implications of unrestricted internet access. The brain isn’t a computer. These kids stay up at night web surfing and it negatively effects their school performance.

    And that’s aside from the ones who don’t commit suicide, sext images of themselves to each other (and get caught) or use that phone to record and proliferate school fighting.

    Smartphones are the worst possible thing these undisciplined underachievers could possibly have.

  2. Stephen

    Yeah, I am a lot like when it comes to the things. I have to have one because of my job, and it does make coordination easier. We have a firm rule at the house no screens are allowed in the bedrooms, and that includes daddy.

    So many old tv episode plots rely on not being able to communicate. My kids always wonder why don’t they use their cell phones.

    I take scouts in the back country and I have to remind them that we have to be self sufficient if one of us gets hurt. They always assume we can call for rescue.

  3. stingray65

    Damn smart phones are killing our brains. I see people all the time that are out walking their dogs or pushing a baby buggy, but are they enjoying nature and interacting with their dog or baby? Heck no, because checking Facebook or playing Candy Crush on their damn phone is way more important than the relaxation that comes from interacting with a pet, or the mental development that their child gets from interacting with an adult. People are constantly complaining about feeling lonely and isolated, but then I see friends/dates out together. Are these people getting the sense of belonging and friendship that comes from enjoying conversation with each other? Heck no, because an SMS from someone else is way more important to read and respond to than anything the people they are with might say, besides the other people are also staring at their damn phones to check Facebook or Snapchat. The mental ability of people to navigate from place to place has also disappeared, as phones provide step by step instructions so they can mindlessly ignore obstacles and traffic that could kill or injure them in order to the keep their eyes on the screen at all times. Somehow many generations made it to adulthood before the days of mobile phones, but today every 5 year old seems to “need” a phone, and increasing evidence suggests this experiment is not going to end well.

  4. Dirty Dingus McGee

    I carry a smart phone, grudgingly. I was perfectly happy with my old Nokia, it made and received calls. But as business demands grew, so did the need for a smartphone. Ability to access email NOW, look up information via the net, transmit pictures from other projects back and forth, etc. However, when I finally step away from working I’ll be back to a “brick”.

  5. -Nate

    Thom ;

    Your Son doesn’t _”need_” any cell ‘phone and certainly not a smartphone .

    He’ll be far more able to handle the world he grows into the longer you hold off, as mentioned, these things impede learning and critical thinking skills .

    I feel for you .

    My Son came of age during the beeper time and he wasn’t allowed one, period .

    He’s far better educated than I am and more tech savvy too ~ they’ll learn it in due time .

    Lastly, Chords are on Jack’s Guitar , that old #500 Western Electric telephone has a cord, just like the one in my living room .


    • Thomas Kreutzer Post author

      Darn it, you got me! I must have written that sentence 50 times and only corrected it 49.

      • -Nate

        Don’t worry, my iPhone S5 occasionally changes spellings _after_ I’ve checked and hit ‘send’ .

        I was just funnin’ ya, I know others here might get up set as I can’t spell for spit .

        I wish I could still buy a basic brick cell ‘phone but no one seems to have such a thing anymore .

        Looks like a Samsung Galaxy S5 is in my near future .


        • Thomas Kreutzer Post author

          There was no auto correct involved there, Nate. It really was me working that paragraph over a dozen or more times, making that mistake again and again and correcting it over and over. The problem is that, once I was finally happy with the way things flowed, I forgot to correct the spelling one last time.

          The funny thing is that I was aware I was doing it, I just didn’t think about it when it counted.

          • -Nate

            ? You’re admitting a mistake on a public forum ? .

            O.K., here’s your penance : 5 lashes with an old clutch cable .


  6. Bigtruckseriesreview

    I’m sick and tired of all these parents out there screaming “poverty” yet they can magically afford to send these underachievers to school with iPhone and Galaxy this and that.

    I don’t want to hear it.

    Better yet, I want to watch their poor decisions EMPTY THEIR POCKETS so they have no choice but to cut back on their spending. These people have to HAVE NO CHOICE – then they actually do the right/ efficient thing.

    It’s like when the credit windows closed during the 2008 recession. The American savings rate went up because THEY HAD NO CHOICE. Now – it’s falling again 🙁

    So anyway: technology can be used for great goods: example – earning money online. Smartphone videos used wisely are extremely profitable.

    But the videos of school fights, school sex, suicides – that should be proof those smartphones are no good.

    And what’s even worse is when I recognize that the social media sites don’t abide by their own rules.

    Kids post this stuff and it goes viral.

  7. ComfortablyNumb

    When has digging in your heels and denying a kid EVER worked? More importantly, when has it EVER been easy for a parent to walk that fine line between raising a worldly kid and keeping them grounded in traditional values? We have an extra smartphone that the kids (7 and 11) take on bike rides in the summer, text us to check in while we run to the store, etc. But it also gives them limited exposure to technology while they’re still at an age where Mom and Dad can monitor them and teach acceptable boundaries. Good luck doing that with a 16-year-old’s first phone that he paid for himself.

  8. seattle4r70w

    My wife works in a large urban school district (Seattle) supporting at-risk students. One of my observations both as a parent and from looking at her work is that children over 12 in public schools without a phone are almost always on the affluent end of the spectrum. In a sense – not having to have one is a luxury. (Think a two generation old iPhone with a cracked screen, shot battery and $25 pre-pay service.)

    For a parents or children with unstable housing situations, joint custody, diabetes, elder care/child care needs, dependence on social workers or state services, mobility based on public transportation etc. – it is honestly the single most important item that they can possess. Thomas really makes the point above when he refers to carrying it during a family health crisis. Consider that some people nearly permanently exist in that state.

    • James

      This is a good point–if you own your car, you know where it is; if you rely on your urban school district to drive you around, you need a phone (with the school district’s app, assuming it works), to let you know when (or whether!) the bus will show up today. If the bus doesn’t show up, you’re fucked; if the app doesn’t work today, you’re fucked; if you break your phone, you’re fucked; if you can’t make your phone payments, you’re fucked. Not just a slave to the state, now also a slave to the phone!

      It seems to me that the underlying problem is that, in this case, the child must rely on inherently unreliable (but expensive, of course) services to get through life. Then he must also rely on an inherently unreliable phone to keep track of all these unreliable services, along with the bullshit he has to go through to get them almost working.

      I guess it would be nice if either the state or the phone actually worked, but then how would the college-educated find jobs?

      • James

        I mean that it would be best, for the at-risk student, if he didn’t have to rely on public transportation. It would be best if he could get where he wanted to go, when he wanted to go there, on his own.

        Barring that, it would be best if the busses were reliable. But they aren’t. So, it would be best if the app on his phone that tells him how late the bus were reliable. But it’s not. So he has trouble getting around, but everyone wins, because fundamentally he doesn’t matter.

        Everyone wins, because Verizon gets its cut: he has to pay them first, each month, or he’s cut off–he’s fucked. Everyone wins, because the bus driver gets paid regardless of whether he shows up for work, and he makes far more than the kid’s parents for his troubles. Everyone wins, because the app is created and maintained by developers with the best of intentions and a rather poor understanding of software design–who make, of course, far more than the kid’s parents.

        Everyone wins, once you realize that the role of an at-risk student, in a large urban school district, is to make money for the many, many people who support him. Everyone wins, once you realize that the at-risk student himself doesn’t matter, because he has no money. The people who are paid to support him aren’t paid by him, so he has no say in what they do.

        • safe as milk

          i’m sure you’re right about many areas of the country and i don’t think your point is limited to at risk kids. but, i live in nyc and the public transport is good (especially now that we have apps that do work still, i wouldn’t dream of letting her use public transport without her phone. my daughter isn’t allowed to take subways by herself for two reasons. there isn’t supervision in each car and texting is spotty at best underground. some of my suburban friends are surprised that we let her do this but i would argue that she is learning a lot more by commuting on public transportation than she would if she arrived to school in her parents car each day.

  9. S2k Chris

    I was given a cell phone relatively early, at age 16 in 1998, before it was common for everyone to have them. On one hand, it was an “indulgence” and a “luxury” and my friends and classmates were jealous. On the other, my parents refused to buy me a car, having neither the money nor desire. So I bought myself an old clunker, and drove all over. They constantly feared a breakdown and I’d be stuck somewhere remote (we lived in a relatively rural area). So while my friends were driving decent $5-10k cars and admiring my cell phone, I was driving a thrice-crashed Geo Prizm for which I paid $1800, and carrying my $100 Nokia 918 which was to be used under pain of death ONLY to summon my parents, or for them to summon me. I still view the cell phone as a bit of a leash more than anything else as a result. It was far more for my parents to control me than it was to enable me to do anything.

  10. DougD

    Nice one Thomas, additionally the old phone was significant in our family because my parents would occasionally call relatives in Europe, and the whole family had to gather round and speak quickly so we could get it over in two minutes.

    We got phones for our kids for much the same reasons you describe. I’m not exactly thrilled, but it is frequently helpful and this is the world we live in, so they’ve gotta learn to deal with it.

    I enjoy having the kids spend time on winderness camping trips, and going to summer camp for a few weeks because of the lack of screen time. When our boy was 16 he was a counsellor all summer, when I picked him up he was a different kid: good posture, chin up, engaging. On the way home I encouraged him to examine his relationship with technology but within a few days he was fully sucked in again. Try again this year, he’s a little more mature…

  11. Eric H

    I don’t own or want a cell phone.
    If you need to reach me and I’m not home, leave a message.
    I’ll get back to you when I want to.

    The worst part of owning a phone is the expectation from others to be immediately reachable.

    Also they’re usuriously expensive in Canada.

  12. hank chinaski

    I got the clones old refurb 3g smartphones for 10 bucks, with a 500min/text/month (no data) plan for 11 bucks/mo from pageplus. It fills the need.
    They can clash their clans on WiFi.

  13. tresmonos

    You’ve done your son a service by prolonging this. He will be able to look at someone in the eyes when talking, be more direct, not avoid conflict, etc. I’m an old millennial by technicality, but compared to my peers, I have social skills that are absolutely necessary to have in my line of work.

    If you do get him a phone, keep the plan simple. Maybe get him a flip phone with unlimited text? Just don’t give him the ADD / anti social development smart phones.

  14. John C.

    I am myself a luddite. I have by choice never had a smart phone. I do have a flip phone for emergencies. I run a small stamp collecting website, that I have yet to see on a phone. I still also have a landline, that are much more suited to the press 1 for this, that are almost all the calls I ever make. I don’t text at all. I do not in the slightest regret that lifestyle choice.
    As for my daughter, she first got a flip phone for her required by us daily calls when she went to boarding school in ninth grade. She was constantly loosing the phones early on. In 2016 she graduated university and what did she want, an apple iPhone. Which she has and gets to stick me with the bill, even now. Ugh.

  15. smallblock

    For an early Christmas present, we got a phone for my daughter, who will be 9 this month.
    We bought it primarily so she can call her mother or I when she needs to be picked up from dance classes / practices. She knows the rules, and any violations will result in revocation. She is very responsible, and really only uses it for a few games for limited time, and text / video chats with her grandparents.
    The Google Family Link tool is excellent. I can restrict app installs and see what she’s doing and where she is.

  16. Compaq Deskpro

    Keep in mind, every phone store still sells a basic Kyocera flip phone for little to no money, you don’t have to hand them the window to all of humanity’s knowledge (and porn, cyberbullying, addictive mobile games with gambling, etc)

    • sabotenfighter

      Maybe in the US. Remember, Thomas is in Japan. Even the flip phones and phones for old people here have gone to Android. And before that, they were feature packed. Data is a necessity as phone linked email, rather than SMS was the name of the game until messenger programs (Line, mainly) became big.
      There are still basic flip phones out there, but not so easy to find. Some businesses make employees carry them, but then they are usually the same old bulletproof phone theyve been using since the early 2000s.

  17. safe as milk

    my daughter has had a smart phone since she turned 10. she takes public transportation to school so she had to get some kind of phone. btw, in her school no one is allowed to use phones during class. they confiscate them, if they are caught and the parents have to come in to retrieve it. maybe i’m spoiling her but she needs to be part of the modern world so i got her an iphone. it’s not that expensive. the iphone se from walmart/straighttalk is about $120. it’s a great small phone. straighttalk charges $47/mo including taxes, etc for unlimited everything.

    • safe as milk

      personally, i’m not a big phone user and got one for work reasons but i have become addicted to the server system which let’s me put my whole music library online and listen anywhere on my phone.

  18. Aoletsgo

    I thank my lucky stars that I grew up in a nice, safe community back in the old days. My brothers and I could be out playing with our friends from morning until the street lights came on with no monitoring or tracking.
    At work I have always had the latest, greatest technology to do my job. However, at home the policy for phones, computers and other technology is:
    • Resist, resist, resist
    • When resistance is futile, get something several generations old
    • Just say no to any and all “upgrades”
    I think we did a pretty good job of holding back and controlling the phone use for our kids. The funny thing now is that my 26 year old daughter will call me when I am working late and tell me it is foggy and to drive home carefully and then text me later to see if I made it home safely. Of course when I got home I just put the phone on my desk and did not look at it for hours. She does not get mad and scold me but I feel like a heel for making her worry.


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