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Luddites were "the original gangsters of anti-technology."
February 11, 2014 11:28 AM   Subscribe

A Field Guide To Anti-Technology Movements, Past And Present (SLHP)

Though historians now believe the Luddite movement wasn't necessarily anti-technology in nature (in fact, their main complaint was a lack of opportunity among the labored force, according to the Smithsonian), the term Luddite has come to signify any person or group who resists the advancing of technology. As Blake Snow, author of Finding Offline Balance In An Online World, puts it, Luddites were "the original gangsters of anti-technology."

Following in the traditional conception of the Luddites as anti-tech activists, more recent movements have opposed the growing role of technology in society and its dehumanizing potential. As the German philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote in 1977, "Everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology."
posted by not_the_water (23 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
What's really begun to annoy me, in some discussions I've had on the net around the effects automation and technology will have on jobs and our social structure around it, is people using "Luddite" to refer to anyone who even dares to point out potentially harmful disruptions coming from new technologies.

I've been called a "Luddite" more than once for simply pointing out the number of jobs that could disappear from the development and widespread adoption of self-driving cars. Even though I specifically mentioned that I look forward to them, and think they'd be a positive, just daring to discuss the large-scale chain of disruption that could come from them was enough to trigger that reaction.

It's as if some people are so wedded to how great technological advance is that they won't even tolerate a suggestion that they may not be pure rainbows and lollipops for every single person on the planet.
posted by evilangela at 11:45 AM on February 11 [14 favorites]


Once men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free... (because any reason for a Calvin & Muad'Dib link is a good one)
posted by frijole at 11:52 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Slightly more on-topic, though... I liked the closing passage from the Smithsonian article linked to from tfa: "It may help, every now and then, to ask which of our modern machines General and Eliza Ludd would choose to break. And which they would use to break them." Indeed, it may.
posted by frijole at 11:58 AM on February 11


I've been called a "Luddite" more than once for simply pointing out the number of jobs that could disappear from the development and widespread adoption of self-driving cars.

Think carefully -- were you smashing a loom at the time?
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:59 AM on February 11 [9 favorites]


The idea of millions of truckers with no gainful employment should scare the hell out of every single person.

I worked in the trucking industry for a bit, and quite clearly the only thing keeping quite a few of the drivers I knew from taking up a life of crime was the decent money they made and the freedom of the gig. GPS tracking destroyed the freedom, automation will eliminate the position all together.

Add to that the increasing complexity of engines from CAT and Cummins, and you can also kiss a big percentage of truck technician jobs goodbye too.
posted by lattiboy at 12:00 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


...quite clearly the only thing keeping quite a few of the drivers I knew from taking up a life of crime was the decent money they made and the freedom of the gig. GPS tracking destroyed the freedom, automation will eliminate the position all together.

Add to that the increasing complexity of engines from CAT and Cummins, and you can also kiss a big percentage of truck technician jobs goodbye.


I guess they should all learn to write code, then. I'm told anyone can do it.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:02 PM on February 11 [5 favorites]


"Major anti-technology movements will be active in the U.S. and elsewhere by 2030,"

We've had the anti-wind energy protestors in the UK since at least the time this was said (in 2001). But this is also something that is reflective of deeper issues.
posted by biffa at 12:15 PM on February 11


quite clearly the only thing keeping quite a few of the drivers I knew from taking up a life of crime

Good luck with that; all the decent criminal jobs were outsourced to China years ago.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:18 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


Does "new" equal "improved"? The answer and this thesaurus may surprise you.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:21 PM on February 11 [5 favorites]


I'm LOLing while I try to imagine the look on Heidegger's face if he knew he was being shoehorned into some HuffPo listicle. Prolly something like this.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:19 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


Good luck with that; all the decent criminal jobs were outsourced to China years ago.

Not only that, but the Chinese criminals are twice as efficient, since they can wield guns in both hands at the same time.
posted by Strange Interlude at 2:04 PM on February 11


Truckers are better people than what you're claiming, lattiboy. I don't want them to lose their jobs for no good reason but if they do, they'll find other work.

In general, I don't think "we have to keep these potential criminals busy" is a fair or practical reason to hold back on a better way of doing something (if it exists.)
posted by michaelh at 2:12 PM on February 11


Without making any generalizations about truckers, I think it's pretty fair to point out that unemployment and crime are definitely linked, and that it's a reasonable assumption that high unemployment might lead to crime.

I've seen areas where industries have suddenly imploded, and "the workers will retrain!" is, to be blunt, kinda bullshit. Yes, some of them will, but some won't, or won't be able to, or will try and won't succeed in the retraining, or will retrain into jobs that are much crappier than the ones they used to have, etc. You don't even need to get into a discussion of crime rates to realize that's a shitty thing to suddenly have to do, or to precipitate on a lot of people if there are other options available.

However, I think there's a much stronger utilitarian argument to be made for obsoleting certain jobs (despite the social costs that will be borne by the people who are suddenly obsolete) in favor of technological improvements that make society safer or more efficient as a whole, than can be made for obsoleting jobs in favor of outsourcing them to somewhere with lax labor standards or a more favorable cost structure that result in a few extra percent of profit to shareholders. Since we apparently have zero problem at all with the latter, I'm not seeing a strong argument for the former.

It would be perverse if we decided to protect truck drivers against automatic driving systems that would make the roads safer, when we happily threw everyone from farmers to steelworkers to factory assemblers under the Economic Progress bus for far less. Welcome to the suck.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:31 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


The thing is we rapidly seem to be running out of "society" that isn't obsolete...
posted by Zalzidrax at 2:48 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


It may sound too French for a lot of Americans, but the obvious solution to jobs being lost is to decrease the amount done by each worker. Such as going to a 4-day work week. Of course that flies in the face of the protestant work ethic, so it will never fly.

And I found the title kind of misleading. It talked about the intellectual descendents of Ludd (although the Amish were an odd inclusion) but didn't mention all sorts of other anti-technology movements. What about anti-GMO activists, who I am sure Francis Collin had in mind when he made the prediction at the beginning of the article? Then there are anti-vaxxers and anti-EMF factions as well. Distrust of technology takes many forms and it would make an interesting article (more likely a book) to examine them in detail.
posted by TedW at 3:33 PM on February 11 [5 favorites]


In general, I don't think "we have to keep these potential criminals busy" is a fair or practical reason to hold back on a better way of doing something (if it exists.)

I should have been clearer: The trucking profession has been heavily marketed at poor, white, males for a long time now. When I worked for a trucking outfit, I had to help one of the "partner" driver schools with some marketing. People they were most interested in reaching?

high school dropouts, college dropouts, the long-term unemployed, minimum wage workers, ect

It was advertised as "the last good job" to a lot of these folks. Something that required not much training and had incredibly flexible (if insane) hours. Additionally, the incredibly weird hours a trucker work tended to draw people without families. Work in oil fields and oil rigs is aimed at this same group. Now it's fracking in North Dakota.

I don't think these folks are predisposed to crime more than any other group, but they are often among the most at-risk and their prospects for re-employment at anything approaching what truckers make are very small. Turning to crime would look extremely tempting and downright logical to me if I were in their shoes.
posted by lattiboy at 3:47 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


The thing is we rapidly seem to be running out of "society" that isn't obsolete...

Except seasoned technologists and serial entrepreneurs.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:48 PM on February 11


It may sound too French for a lot of Americans, but the obvious solution to jobs being lost is to decrease the amount done by each worker. Such as going to a 4-day work week.

But what will I do when the shops are closed between 1 and 4? My late night Doritos Locos Tacos run? And what of my Saturday mail delivery?

Seriously tho, anecdotally I saw a lot of shop workers going straight from their restaurant to the retail store and back again during the supposed break hours in Europe. Looks like it's kind of a compromise.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:28 PM on February 11


But what will I do when the shops are closed between 1 and 4? My late night Doritos Locos Tacos run? And what of my Saturday mail delivery?

Maybe businesses could hire a few of the millions of unemployed people to pick up the slack. Nah, fuck it, let's use drones.
posted by entropicamericana at 4:49 PM on February 11


Is it okay to be a Luddite?
posted by 0rison at 5:23 PM on February 11


FWIW, Cat doesn't make on-highway engines anymore; "their" new truck is made by International and has an International engine (which doesn't meet the newest EPA standard, so International has to use credits it accumulated to sell its new engines). Cummins is the only independent on-highway engine supplier left, since Detroit Diesel belongs to Daimler/Freightliner.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 5:26 PM on February 11


I'm a Luddite when it comes to grocery stores and their absurd self-checkout machines for anything more than an item or two.

When helping their bottom-line amounts to me learning to use their their crappy machines -- machines with endless, chiding complaints giving ME direct orders -- so they can fire clerks and baggers (who'll do just what work instead??) and get ME to do THEIR job? At the end of my own long work day? NOT!!

The machines are so bad that stores have to keep one or more employees very busy helping customers use them (after they've been in place for years). This particular harbinger of the future - presaging a screw-the-customer approach to everything - is one that needs closer scrutiny.
posted by Twang at 5:33 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


We need a new Bismarck to tame the machines
posted by kliuless at 9:32 PM on February 11


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