Whenever someone is opposed to or criticial of technology — or even just not that familiar with it — we often call them Luddites. But what does this term mean? Science-fiction writer (and Canadian) Cory Doctorow wrote about this term recently, and how misplaced our current use of it is:
From 1811-1816, a secret society styling themselves “the Luddites” smashed textile machinery in the mills of England. Today, we use “Luddite” as a pejorative referring to backwards, anti-technology reactionaries. This proves that history really is written by the winners. In truth, the Luddites’ cause wasn’t the destruction of technology – no more than the Boston Tea Party’s cause was the elimination of tea, or Al Qaeda’s cause was the end of civilian aviation. Smashing looms and stocking frames was the Luddites’ tactic, not their goal.
The Luddites weren’t exercised about automation. What were they fighting about? These new machines could have allowed the existing workforce to produce far more cloth, in far fewer hours, at a much lower price, while still paying these workers well. Instead, the owners of the factories – whose fortunes had been built on the labor of textile workers – chose to employ fewer workers, working the same long hours as before, at a lower rate than before, and pocketed the savings.