The Teens Are Offline

Season 6, Episode 7

Meet the Luddite Club, a group of library-loving, flip-phone-toting teenagers in Brooklyn who come together every week out of a shared sense that social media and smart phones just aren't working for them. 

Additional resources:

Check out this list of the Luddite Club's favorite books.

Episode Transcript

Ali Post On a Sunday afternoon in April, Virginia and I went to Central Library to meet the Luddite Club. 

Virginia Marshall The club is made up of high schoolers who gather on the front steps every week and walk to Prospect Park together, where they hang out, gossip, read books … normal teen stuff. 

Ali Post But, what brings these teens together is their shared sense that smart phones and social media — what you might think of as “normal teen stuff” — isn’t really working for them. 

Logan I'm Logan. I'm 17. So over a year ago the Luddite Club started. And it started because I met this girl, Jameson. I met her at a punk show. She had a flip phone and like, I didn't have a phone, so we bonded over being Luddites or something. Then I didn't see her for a couple weeks and I actually ran into her at the library. We liked the same books and we hung out and then it was just like, I wish more of my friendships could be like this. So, we got like all of our friends to get flip phones and that's how we got here.

Ali Post Today on Borrowed: the Luddite Club, in their own voices. I’m Ali Post. 

Virginia Marshall And I’m Virginia Marshall. You’re listening to Borrowed: Stories that start at the library. 

Photo of the Luddite Club in Prospect Park (taken with Logan's flip phone).

Biruk I started using the library because of Logan. We met up at the library, and I was like, woah ... I did not know any of this was here.  

Ali Post This is Biruk. She’s 17 and one of the members of the Luddite Club. 

Biruk And there was a music recording studio. I, like, almost got teary, and Logan was really getting annoyed because I was like, look at that! Look at that!

Logan And we were like, in the Information Commons.

Biruk It was crazy. 

Anonymous So, I'm new here. I came for the first time only last month. I read the article in The Times about it in English class. I was like, that looks interesting. I want to check it out.

Logan They made you read it in class? That's cool.

Anonymous I was like, that looks interesting. I want to check it out. So I came a couple of weeks later and I found out it's better than the article said.

Ali Post That last speaker wanted to remain anonymous in this story, but the article he mentioned made a big impact on him and on the group as a whole. The article was about the Luddite Club and it came out in The New York Times back in December. When it was published, it brought a lot of attention to the group that wasn’t exactly positive. It caused some tension and made the group question their values. But, it also brought new members … like Rowan. 

Rowan I feel like most of the original members found out about it from a friend, and so they were acntually directly told details. I'm also quite new, and I figured it out from the articles. 

Logan Rowan came to the library with a sign that said "Looking for the Luddite club," which is so cute. 

Rowan Yes, I did. It was laminated I was going to tape it to the door. 

Ali Post Odille, on the other hand, heard about the Luddite Club from their friends. They decided to give up social media after talking with the group. 

Odille We kind of bonded over how we didn't like, just like the toxic energy that just like, radiates off of like Instagram and stuff like that. And then it was just like obviously messing with our lives. So we just like came together and decided that like we weren't going to deal with it anymore. 

Logan I also, I just always remember being on social media and seeing people post their hangouts and I would see people hanging out without me. And it it could be someone I'm not friends with whatsoever, but I would be jealous. I would be like like, Oh my God, I wish I was in that friend group. I wish I was about them. Now that's totally I feel like that's something that social media ... like social media breeds with high schoolers because they're just — [phone rings] Oh, sorry that's my phone. Oh, my friend from work. Wait. Hello? Who is this? 

Ali Post Logan walked away from the group to answer her phone. It was her friend from the bagel store, who’d heard about the Luddite Club and was trying to find them in the park. If you’ve ever had a flip phone, you can probably remember how long it takes to type out a text — even using T9 texting, which predicts the words you are writing out. So rather than text, the teens kept taking phone calls. Though it was disruptive during the brief call, the rest of the time we were in the park, no one looked at their phones. Not having a smart phone didn’t mean they were disconnected, just that they had a different relationship with the technology. And the flip phone is an important part of that. Here’s Logan again. 

Logan We T9 text all the time. It's so fun. It's honestly it recently I have it kind of like talking to boys like on my flip phone and it's so fun. Like you put in a lot more thought into what you say and like, I get it. Like, it takes up a lot of time, but I think if you really count it up, maybe you spend like an hour on your flip phone every single day and ... versus even if it's easier to type on a smart phone, it gets to 7 hours because it's just so addictive. Whereas like, my phone is so boring. Like, I'm always surprised at how like, not fun it is. And if no one's texting me, I'm just like, this flip phone sucks. And that's like the whole point. It's supposed to suck. Like I don't want it to be something that I really want to use all the time.

Odille I never really notice that it sucks because I'm just having so much fun all the time with it. 

Ali Post That's Odille again.

Ali Post What's fun about it to you? 

Odille Just like it not being an iPhone.

Logan We take a lot of pride in it, I feel like.

Odille Yeah, it's really dramatic. It's fun when you're like, have a phone call and you want to dramatically end the call and you're like. [Snap]

Logan Yeah. And also everyone like, this is kind of a negative, but like everyone, when you take it out in class, everyone stares at you and you're walking down the street, people stare at you and —

Odille People whisper at each other, and they're like, she has a flip phone.

Sasha But also it's like, so annoying because it's like a little bit scary to take it out at school. Not because I'm scared of people judging me.

Ali Post This is Sasha, age 15.

Sasha Because I'm scared of people aestheticizing it. 

Logan People are like, you're so Y2K.

Sasha Yes, I tend to wear a lot of Y2K stuff because I used to be really into that and like half of my closet is that. And then like I'll be wearing something like, say, like a juicy tracksuit and then I’ll pull out my flip phone, and then someone will be like, Oh my God, you're the most aesthetic. And it's just like, not what I'm going for. I'm just trying to text my mom or something. 

Odille We didn't want it to be like, you have to have a flip phone. Like, was like, there's nothing wrong with you if you don't like. No, we were trying to help people who have addictions to their iPhones. Like, so like if you have an iPhone, like we want you to come so you can like, have time off of it and we can like talk to you and like, help you with your addiction. 

Ali Post At one point in the conversation, Biruk confessed that she was having a hard time staying a Luddite ... 

Biruk Guys. I might have started messing around. A little bit. 

Logan No, you should tell, you should tell. I think this is important.

Biruk Okay. So I like made okay ... I made an Instagram account because I, like, figured out the school that I want to go to. And I don't know anybody there and I don't know how to contact anybody there. But so there's like this random one-follower account messaging all these people like, Hey, hi. How are you? Like ... and I keep on deleting it. Like, the school that I want to go to, you need safety apps for it. So, it's like, okay, what do you do now? Like, how am I supposed to function as a, as a young adult in this world not wanting an iPhone? Because, I went back and I felt like, oh my God, like, I don't I don't know if ... This doesn't look like this feel okay. It felt sad.

Ali Post Why did it feel sad? 

Biruk Because I just didn't want to do it, but I was doing it. And that's the thing about, like, addiction and, like, all those little... 

Logan That's what it really feels like. It feels like you're relapsing. 

Anonymous It is an addiction.  

Logan Yeah. I go to my mom's phone sometimes, like, particularly on road trips, she'll have me do directions. And I am just so, I'm so surprised. I'm not maybe I'm not surprised, but every single time I just notice myself falling back into old habits. And maybe I'll go on Instagram or I go through my mom's texts, which is so messed up, but I'm like, whatever. I do, like really toxic things like that. And I go through photos or I ... Anyway, I find myself falling into old habits and it doesn't make me any less of a Luddite, but it's just like, I'm much more aware of those habits. So they seem much more clear. 

Biruk I think at the end of the day, this lifestyle is a suggestion of being more present. And I think all the things I’ve been trying to do, like putting myself out there. Like busking, like going to the library, like looking for jobs. Like, whatever you do, you do it intentionally. That's why it feels like you're slipping when you are holding an iPhone. It's because I'm not doing anything intentionally right now. I'm just like scrolling or I'm like, actually, like, I don't want to be doing this, but I'm doing it?  

Ali Post Has going off of smart phones like, affected what you're interested in, like studying or doing with your life? 

Biruk Yes. Totally. 

Logan I definitely like, I kind of and I really want to pursue English in college, and I think it started when I just started reading, and that started coincidentally when I got off social media and I got off my phone.

Jameson Yeah. And I also think it just makes sense, right? Like if like, I'm making this up, pulling this out of my ass, but like, the average person sounds like, what, 8 hours a day? Something like that on their phone? Seven, six. Yeah, teenagers. So, like the 8 hours that I'm no longer spending on my phone, like thats just 8 hours to like do whatever I want. Like pursue so many interests. Read. Getting to sleep.

Logan We sleep so much.

Jameson Jeez, Odille! But like, I don't know. And it's also changed the way I study. Like, schoolwork has gotten so much easier.

[Sound of yelling in surprise. Man's voice apologizing.]

Ali Post As we were talking, a little dog suddenly ran into the center of the group and took a bite out of Logan’s bagel. The owner was apologetic, but the Luddite Club was super excited to have a visitor.  

Virginia Marshall Well, this guy's just setting up shop.  Is she a Luddite? 

Logan My dog is such a Luddite. She's always like preaching the gospel. She's like, Logan, you know I just sit in my crate and I read my book every night. Cuz it really relaxes me and it puts me to bed.

Ali Post Once the dog had been returned to its owner, the group settled down again. We were about to leave when Jameson spoke up. She wanted to make one more point. 

Photo of the Luddite Club in Prospect Park (taken with Logan's flip phone).

Jameson I feel like, you know, we get a lot of, like, backlash, I think also from like fellow teenagers who think ...

Logan Especially fellow teenagers. 

Anonymous And some really judgy adults. 

Jameson Right. Who think that, like, you know, they say the word pretentious gets thrown around a lot, exclusionary, you know, all these terms. 

Anonymous I don't understand that. How is it exclusionary?

Anonymous Classist, ableist. All the buzzwords.

Jameson Yeah. Okay. Which is all the "ist" words and which is why I want to say right now, like the Luddite Club does not discriminate. Like if you want a better relationship with technology. 

Anonymous And other people.

Jameson We want to help you. And we don't care if you have an iPhone. We don't care if you're on TikTok. 

Anonymous We don't care what you look like. We don't care how you identify.

Jameson The Luddite Club, yeah, we don't care how you identify. The Luddite Club is, we want it to be a safe space for anybody who's just kind of, like, shares similar values. And maybe is, like, wants to work towards having a better relationship with technology.

Anonymous I think the point of this club is being truly inclusive. 

Jameson And we don't think we're better than anyone else. That's stupid. 

Anonymous We just think that we are better than we were before. 

Jameson Yes. 

Logan That's a great way of putting it.

Anonymous We don't really care about how other people choose to spend their lives. That's their problem. They can spend it however they want. That's their choice. We care about how we spend our lives. 


Ali Post As we left the Luddite Club and walked back to the library, I was thinking about my senior year of college. That year, I still had a flip phone, but many of my friends had recently gotten smart phones. I didn't have Instagram yet and it was a treat when a friend showed me theirs.  I noticed how the smart phone changed how people wrote text messages and the amount of time they were on their phones. When I graduated and moved to a city, I got a smart phone because it was necessary for getting around and finding work, and for the most part I stopped thinking about my relationship to technology. Hanging out with the Luddite Club was a reminder that despite the access we have to technology and the many ways we need it, we can think critically about how we engage with it and how it makes us feel. The teens find meaning from consuming a range of technologies -- from books to flip phones to, occasionally, smart phones. They use the library to find information and community, and they go to the park to reflect and socialize. Like all teens, they are exploring their identities through cultivating taste and friendships. For the Luddite Club, disconnecting from smart phones is a part of that. Plus, its really fun to snap your phone closed when you hang up from a call. 

Virginia Marshall Borrowed is brought to you by Brooklyn Public Library. This episode was written and hosted by Ali Post, and produced by Ali Post and me. You can read a transcript of this episode, and see genuine flip-phone photos from the Luddite club on our website: BKLYN Library [dot] org [slash] podcasts. 

Ali Post Our Borrowed advisory team is Fritzi Bodenheimer, Robin Lester Kenton, and Damaris Olivo. Jennifer Proffitt and Ashley Gill run our social media. Our music composer is Billy Libby. Meryl Friedman designed our logo. 

Virginia Marshall If you enjoy this show, there’s another series we think you'll love. It’s called Undiscarded: Stories of New York and is brought to you by our friends at the City Reliquary Museum in Williamsburg. Each episode celebrates the extraordinary history behind a seemingly mundane object from the Reliquary’s unique collection — a lightbulb, maybe, or a toy, or a piece of paper — finding stories in them that shed new light on the history of New York and the people whose lives have always made the city so alive. Be sure to listen at or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Ali Post We’ll be back in a few weeks. In the meantime, put down your phone and go to the library.