Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Luddism, revisited

Well, well. It seems I've struck a nerve. Remember my little bit from yesterday (I know it was so long ago) on Luddites on the web? You'll recall that I was mocking the Luddism category on the "Globe of Blogs." When one is attempting to be pert, sassy and provocative, and calls someone "clueless," one is bound to offend.

The lad (yes, my gender confusion has been cleared up), over at Jalan-Jalan has replied and helpfully broadened the notion of what a Luddite, and Luddism, is. He writes:

"The true meaning of Luddism is not just destruction for self-preservation, nor people who are steadfastly against change. Luddism stands for something more refined than that - Luddites are against change for the sake of change if it takes our souls away. If it ain't broke, why fix it John?"

The lad informs me that my definition of the Luddite is too narrow. I'm guilty as charged. In fact I need to clarify my position here. Several years ago, I wrote a paper about appropriate technology that I hoped expressed a point of view very similar to the lad's, quoted above. (The paper, "Environment, Technology and Culture: Conditions and Criteria for Appropriate Technology," while not necessarily very good, was for a long time itself on the web, but doesn't seem to be anymore.)

Indeed, I mentioned in yesterday's post my own "technology ambivalence." When I happened upon the Luddism category on the Globe of Blogs, I was intrigued. Could it be that people were actually, rationally, discussing the limits of the value of technological change on the web, that paragon of modern technological wonder?

I was disappointed in finding no obvious discussions and that partially accounts for the sass. That and a little poking fun -- at myself as much as anyone.

But while we're on the serious topic of technological change and its downside, here are some thought-provoking criteria for evaluating new technologies from a book by Jerry Mander (pen name? I have no idea) titled In the absence of the sacred: The failure of technology and the survival of the Indian nations (1991):

1. Since most of what we are told about new technology comes from its proponents, be deeply skeptical of all claims.

2. Assume all technology "guilty until proven innocent."

3. Eschew the idea that technology is neutral or "value free" ...

4. The fact that technology has a natural flash and appeal is meaningless. Negative attributes are slow to emerge.

5. Never judge a technology by the way it benefits you personally. Seek a holistic view of impacts. The operative question is not whether it benefits you, but who benefits most? And to what end?

6. Keep in mind that an individual technology is only one piece of a larger web of technologies ... The operative question here is how the individual technology fits the larger one.

7. Make distinctions between technologies that primarily serve the individual or the small community ... and those that operate on a scale outside of community control ...

8. When it is argued that the benefits of the technological lifeway are worthwhile despite harmful outcomes, recall that Lewis Mumford referred to these alleged benefits as "bribery." ...

9. Do not accept the homily that "once the genie is out of the bottle you cannot put it back," or that rejecting a technology is impossible. ...

10. In thinking about technology within the present climate of technological worship, emphasize the negative. This brings balance ...

So those are Mander's 10 "Ten Recommended Attitudes Toward Technology." I've trimmed them down some for brevity's sake. I think it would safe to say that he is a more serious and nuanced Luddite. His ideas have merit, although I might not necessarily endorse everything he has to say. (Obviously, he's quite negative about technology.)

Well, I see I do go on -- into philosophical mode. This could be the start of a really important conversation. So thanks, lad, for responding to my sass. Now, maybe the other bloggers I skewered could chime in? Comments, anyone?

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