In 1812, a group of English textile workers known as Luddites destroyed new labor-saving equipment that threatened their livelihoods.
Two hundred years later, the term “Luddite” survives, with a broader definition as a person opposed to technological changes — such as the Internet.
According to internetworldstats.com, only 21 percent of the North American population does not use the Internet — meaning no email or Facebook, no Skyping or Web surfing. Statistics for northeast Kansas were not available. But a search using old-fashioned means identified a few residents of the region doing without modern communication advances for reasons ranging from financial to philosophical.
Tom Steele, 67, of Basehor said he steers clear of the Internet because of concerns over privacy and his own temperament.
“I go to the library once in a while and fiddle on their computer,” the retired grocery hauler said. “If I get mad there, I won’t tear it up. But if I had a laptop at home, I’d probably throw it.”
During one brief period after an employer stopped mailing pay stubs, Steele recalled, he began using a computer at work to access payroll data.
“You had to change your password every 30 days, and the third time you hit the wrong button, it would kick you out,” he said. “I finally said, ‘Heck with it, I’ll go to the bank for the information.’”
But even if computers were hassle-free, Steele would have little use for them.
“As far as people paying their bills by Internet, that’s about the dumbest thing going,” he said. “Someone got hold of my wife’s Social Security number, and we ended up having to put a credit lock on.”
Being able to see his grandkids live on Skype would be “cool,” Steele acknowledged, adding that he could “see a whole world of advantageous things, like genealogy, you could look up on the computer.”
“But it just doesn’t fit my category,” he said. “My daughter and son-in-law use their smartphone to find out what restaurants are closest to them and how many calories are in this or that. I say, ‘Just go eat.’”
According to Steele, he has an “antique” cellphone, which doesn’t text or take photos. And he’s dreading the day the battery wears out, forcing him to upgrade.
“I just have no interest or patience for stuff like that,” Steele said. “I’d rather ride my motorcycle, work in the yard and spend time with my family.”
Andra Gonzalez, who lives at the Bluejacket Lodge Apartments in Shawnee, said she prefers to communicate the old-fashioned way: through letters, on a landline telephone or face to face.
While working on one of the 100 lap robes she donates each year, Gonzalez chatted recently with neighbor Cena Burge, who rued the fact she could no longer afford Internet service. Burge, a Christian Scientist, said she especially missed online church programs and the ability to look up things like recipes.
“If I need a recipe,” Gonzalez said, “I go to the library and find a cookbook.”
A retired nurse, Gonzalez used to use a computer in the clinic. But she doesn’t miss the learning curves associated with annual updates of the operating system — “It used to be called Windows,” she said.
Like Steele, Gonzalez also has security concerns. Her son’s bank account was tapped to the tune of several thousand dollars by a hacker, she said.
But Gonzalez’s main reason for remaining offline, she said, is that “there are better things to spend time and money on.”
Viola Schlup, who lives east of Baldwin City, said she hasn’t needed any innovations since marrying Truly Ernest Schlup and moving to a new home decades ago.
“We had a refrigerator, a black-and-white TV and an inside bathroom,” Viola said. “No, I take that back. I still had to beat a path (to the outhouse) until I got pregnant with our first child and we moved to a house with a bathroom.”
Truly Ernest, 83, and Viola, 71, don’t have the Internet or even cable or satellite dish for television reception.
“We get (channels) 4, 5 and 9, which is more than we need,” Viola said. “I do have a cellphone in case I go out and have a breakdown. But as far as the Internet, we don’t need it, don’t want it, not going to get it.”
The Schlups prefer to spend their free time playing cards, watching a little TV and playing with their Pomeranian, Tinkerbelle.
“My children all have the Internet, and I think it’s good for the right things,” Viola said. “But take all these men who think they’re talking to 14-year-olds who are actually talking to detectives. That destroys families.”
Michael Repp of Nieman Chiropractic in Shawnee uses the Internet in his business. But like older Luddites, Repp said he didn’t like the interpersonal direction of modern communication.
“I don’t tweet or Facebook, and I don’t have an iPhone,” Repp said. “I’m ‘so 29 seconds ago’ — which, by the way, is my least favorite commercial slogan.”