The Washington Post delivers an early Valentine to Nicols Fox, author of a new book from Island Press, Against the Machine: The Hidden Luddite Tradition in Literature, Art and Individual Lives, with a laudatory and uncritical profile. Fox, who primly congratulates herself and inconveniences any friend who might want to reach her with her refusal to own an answering machine or cell phone, thinks that in our thoughtless embrace of technological gadgetry we ignore, Post writer Ken Ringle says, "the absences—the spiritual and aesthetic values we've allowed to slip away almost unnoticed in our collective embrace of machinery from the steam engine to the Palm Pilot." For example, she realized her coffee grinder's electronic clamor was setting her all on edge, so she now grinds by hand. Ned Ludd is smiling from his low-tech, high-labor heaven.
She is full of complaints about how the choices other people make are clearly—to her—making their lives worse. People like Ms. Fox who delight in hanging clothes out to dry on the line and, who knows, strapping on a wooden yoke to plow their fields, should live long and prosper. But I'm always a little set on edge myself by the whiff of Big Brotherism that hovers around writing dedicated to telling most people that they are really, if they but stopped to think about it, going about this life business in entirely the wrong manner. Fox is so sure of her righteousness, as portrayed here, that she willfully ignores that some people might actually want to be able to reach and be reached by phone while away from home, and are willing to pay the price in terms of time spent recharging batteries on their cell phone. Fox claims she's all about opening people's eyes to the fact that they can choose not to use technology. That she even thinks this is news to most people evinces a lack of respect for her fellow man far more aggravating than the lamentable fact that the electric dishwasher (which I don't own, by the way) robs us of "the only interesting aspect of dishwashing, which is how to get off that piece of cheese that's stuck to the plate."