You Might Be a Luddite if...
Choosing between technology and humanity
by Michael Braunstein
I have no problem with an insult now and then. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, “You can please all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time but you can’t please all the people all the time.” One insult I’ve grown proud to receive is the label Luddite.
However, Luddite carries the social stigma artificially painted on it since Ned Lud roamed the English countryside 225 years ago. Politician and industrialist alike, paid cronies and misguided miscreants, even those blindly deceived, rail against any who take the side of nature and humanity against technology and scientific “progress.”
Since C.P. Snow’s treatise, “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution,” little margin has been left for the original intent of the Luddites. Snow carried on and modernized a biased position described by Thomas Pynchon as an opportunity to characterize those with whom they disagree as both politically reactionary and anti-capitalist. Neither of those qualities is welcome in modern day America. Hence, calling someone a Luddite implies they are a technophobe and is applied with contempt toward anyone daring to question the march of science.
Evolution or De-evolution?
Joseph Chilton Pearce writes in Evolution’s End that it is not as simple as labeling technology as bad or good. Somehow, society, driven by profit motive, has lost its guidance. The intellect “manipulates its environment without concern for, or the foresight to determine the consequences of, its impulsive invention. Intellect looks through its tunnel vision and asks only Is it possible?, and creates disaster.” Intelligence, a different quality from intellect, asks a different question: Is it appropriate?
The appropriateness of technological advances is the question the true Luddite asks.
From knitting frames to mainframes
Legend places Ned Lud near Leicester, England in 1789. An incident that resulted in his bashing two mechanical knitting frames to pieces was seized upon as symbolic by an 1811 political movement. Calling themselves “Luddites,” activists smashed textile machines in factories to protest the mechanization that was taking away their jobs. The movement eventually was thwarted by the Crown. But the term lived on and was used to describe anyone who opposed technological advances. The blanket use became pejorative and included the allusion of unreasonable fear.
Looking at history though, it may be more than reasonable to be skeptical of technology. Countless are the times that technological advances applied without concern for impact over the long haul have risen up to bite us, Luddite and technocrat alike, in the butt.
With entrance into the powerful age of information and computer-based data mining, techno-development is at an all-time high. Decoding the DNA secrets of life and mapping genes has given us a tempting target for our manipulative technology. Applying all the information we gather about the inner workings of nature and turning it over to computer-based analysis leaves us with intriguing but questionable inventions. Time and again we see how we have compromised our innate powers by handing them over to technology. Or have you forgotten the sense of panic when you noticed your Blackberry was dead or you left your cell phone somewhere? Would you even be able to work today without the internet?
We develop vaccines for nearly every thing or ailment in human existence but don’t stop to ask whether taking immunity out of the hands of a very capable immune system is actually defeating it in the big picture. We think we can control our environment by one technological advance after another and things get worse instead of better. We miss the big picture and forget the important question.
Yes, it is possible to do such and such. But is it appropriate?
Rise of the neo-Luddite
Darn right I’m not giving up my laptop or email! And I love my hybrid car, not so much because of gas mileage but its lack of polluting exhaust. And I’ve got this sweet little box that lets me play music from my iBook through my stereo into any room I want. But you know what? I’m not going to let myself get dependent on any of it.
So I switched up yesterday and actually went to a library to research dates and quotes for this column. I looked at printed pages, not the internet. The worst part of the whole experiment? I had to find books using the library’s computer system rather than catalog cards. Know what? It was slower and there was so much data that came up I had to sort it out.
No. I’m not insulted to be called a Luddite. When technology is ill-advised and carried out just because we can do it without concern for whether we should do it, I’ll stand on the side of the knitting frame smashers, along with heroes from Yoda to those in the Terminator and all who recognize the broken cog.
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