Luddites of the World Unite
I had learned about the Luddites when I studied history for my undergraduate degree, but I had forgotten all about them until our son-in-law proclaimed himself to be one. Webster defines a Luddite as “one of a group of early 19th century English workmen destroying laborsaving machinery as a protest; broadly: one who is opposed to especially technological change.” The Wikipedia article seems pretty accurate to me. Ryan is a Luddite in the broad sense of the word and a very good one, at that. He prefers hand tools to power tools, home-made to store-bought, and, if he has to have one, a car with a manual transmission and crank windows. I’m proud to have a Luddite of Ryan’s sort in our family.
I like having a Luddite in the family, but am not really much of one myself. I like technology, especially digital technology. Quill pen, parchment and carrier pigeon would make writing and distributing the e-pistle much more difficult.
But I had a Luddite moment this past week that reminded me of why Ryan is right in so many ways. I was at the local grocery store picking up a few items on a shopping list Becky had given me. Apples and bananas were among the listed items and when I was in the produce department I found the apples and bananas and then acted on an impulse, something you are not supposed to do in a supermarket. The avocados looked really good; ripe and ready for a salad, and I love avocados.
I don’t shop often, so I wouldn’t know a good price from a bad price, but the sign over the avocados read in letters big enough to read from the banana stand, 2/$3.00. I love avocados. The fine print on the sign said the avocados were $1.50 a piece. “Interesting marketing ploy,” I thought when I looked again at the big letters telling me about the bargain I’d be getting if I bought 2/$3.00. I also noticed that a single avocado would cost $1.69 unless I had my frequent shopper’s card. I’m not a frequent shopper. But I love avocados. I picked the best looking one of the lot and headed to the check-out line.
I watched as the apples and bananas and everything else on my list were scanned and then noticed that the avocado, the best one of the lot, was scanned at $2.29.
“I think the avocado should have been $1.69.” I told the clerk.
She scanned it again and said, “No, it’s $2.29.”
“But the sign says $1.69,” I replied.
She seemed to be a kind clerk and was patient with me. “Sir,” she said, “The scanner reads the barcode and it says $2.29.”
Maybe I did not sufficiently appreciate the lesson in grocery store technology, and, really, neither of us were anything but polite with each other, but she did seem to lose a little patience when I told her I did not care about the bar code, that the sign over the avocados had told me $1.69, in fact $1.50 a piece with my frequent shopper’s card or better yet, 2/$3.00.
I think she may have rolled her eyes at the next customer when she asked if I wanted the avocado or not.
I wanted the avocado and paid $2.29 for it. But I went back to the produce department before heading home. Maybe I’d mis-read the sign or they charge more for the best avocado of the lot. But the sign over the avocados, all of them, still said 2/$3.00 and the small print still told us we could have them for $1.50 a piece ($1.69 without a frequent shopper’s card). Now I remember why I am not a frequent shopper.
As I left I walked by the checkout lane and said – I think I was still being polite – “the computer has it wrong.”
I think the clerk may have muttered “Luddite” under her breath.
Barcodes are typically more accurate than my memory. They don’t act on impulse and they don’t weigh the cost benefit of buying an over-priced but well-ripened avocado. But in the end, that phrase from the early days of computing still holds, “Garbage in, garbage out.” If you tell the computer to charge $2.29 for a single avocado, that’s what it will do no matter how many times you scan the barcode and no matter what the sign in the produce department says.
God does not create us with embedded barcodes or scanners. We have faulty memories, odd impulses and quirky personalities. And to our faulty memories, odd impulses and quirky personalities God has entrusted the story of his love, the Gospel of his grace.
Someone is going to tell me that the whole Bible can be contained in a barcode and read by an optical scanner. I’m sure it can. You could pass that Bible barcode over the scanner a thousand times and it would not change the scanner a bit. It would still read whatever the barcode gave it. Garbage in, garbage out.
The gospel is always carried and told by beloved and redeemed human persons still with faulty memories, odd impulses and quirky personalities; read in the lives lived out in response to it. By the power of the Holy Spirit it is always changing, always renewing, always refining the faulty memories, odd impulses and quirky personalities of those who tell and those who hear.
I guess you could say God is a Luddite in a godly sort of way.
Luddites of the World Unite