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Copyright © Michael Wooller 2006 Being of a perverse nature and having a tendency to question things, I decided to do some research on the derogatory term 'luddite' (as in " what do you mean you're not going to upgrade to XP, you luddite!"). A luddite in conventional language these days is someone who is opposed to new technology. Using this definition, a dedicated luddite would presumably do mathematical calculations using a stick and wet sand on the beach. Provided the stick wasn't manufactured, of course! Seems far fetched, doesn't it? As it turns out my natural instinct for smelling injustice was accurate. The Luddites were a group of English cottage industry craftsmen of the early 1800's who were fighting to retain their way of life. As we know, history is written by the victors, which in this case was not the Luddites.
As a result the smear campaign of the time, promoted by the government and factory owners, stuck and they were painted as idiots afraid of change. It is this dis-information that gave rise to the modern definition of a luddite as a technophobe. What they were actually protesting was the destruction of their way of life by the introduction of large-scale textile factories. And what an enviable way of life it was. Picture this, (please go to iTunes download and play 'Morning' from the Peer Gynt Suite), a small cottage in the bucolic English countryside.
Butterflies flit from colourful flower to colourful flower whilst the birds sing sweetly in the lush green trees by the babbling brook. Inside the cottage the weaver is contently finishing his latest creation destined for the markets of Europe and because the price of his goods never changes, he knows how much he will be paid. His wife and children are happily helping him in his tasks. Pausing to refresh himself from his labours, he wanders out into the garden to check on the progress of the spinach, pull a few weeds out of the potato patch and throws the chickens some food left over from the family lunch. I think I could cope with that! So these craftsmen, faced with the life that they had built for themselves being destroyed by machine technology, petitioned parliament, but to no avail. Eventually they took more drastic measures and began to destroy the machines that were the source of their problems. They were not technophobes, they were people reacting to a very real threat to their idyllic cottage industry way of life. They did not target all technology, but rather those technologies that would have a negative effect on their lives and this is the point.
A quick look at the real history of the Luddite movement reveals that it was well thought out and that it was not change itself that the Luddites were afraid of, but rather the negative effects that the change would bring about. The Luddites predicted quite accurately that the factories would destroy their largely independent and self-sufficient lifestyles. Their movement was well organised and lasted for more than a year before the British army violently quashed it. So a more correct definition of a Luddite would be some one who is against technology that does not enhance what it is to be human and someone who believes that not all technology is good technology - take the pogo stick for example!! Luddites were not fighting against technology but the effects of technology on the quality of life. Do you remember what computers were going to do for the quality of life? The paperless office, all menial and tedious tasks were going to automated and computerised and the average person would only to work two days a week! Yeah! Right! In essence most people are not much better off today than the textile mill workers of the 19th century who were locked in a factory away from their homes and families, with no quality of enterprise. It's just that today the 'dilbert' cubical is air conditioned! The problems that the Luddites faced are still with us; the difference for us is that we were born in to them so we think it is normal. But good news. Thanks to computer and satellite technology a new generation of pre-Luddite entrepreneurs is emerging. In our droves we are reversing the movement, leaving the factories and starting home based businesses just like the weavers of old. Thanks to appropriate technology, we have the opportunity to conduct business whilst packing the kids off to school, planting the spinach, feeding the chickens and maybe an afternoon delight between google-ads.
The computer has replaced the weaver's loom, the internet has replaced the traveling merchants, software has replaced the yarn, but I bet you we have the same aspirations for peace, joy and happiness as our ancestors. So now is a good time to plan your escape from the open plan office and work station that enslaves you 8+ hours per day, that you spend 1+ hours getting to and 1+ hours getting home from. Create the lifestyle that you want, visit me and I'll show you a way.
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