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What Is a Neo-Luddite?

The invention of the mechanical loom was on the driving forces behind the original Luddite movement.
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  • Last Modified Date: 07 October 2014
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A Neo-Luddite is someone who believes that the use of technology has serious ethical, moral, and social ramifications. Operating under this belief, Neo-Luddites are critical of technology and cautious to promote its early adoption. While they are not necessarily opposed to technology, they would prefer to see a more serious discussion of the role of technology in society. Some Neo-Luddites actually dislike technology, opting for a life of "voluntary simplicity," but this is not always the case.

The term "Luddite" comes from a political movement during the Industrial Revolution. The Luddites disliked the spread of mechanical devices such as mechanized looms to accomplish tasks which were formerly performed by people. They held marches, destroyed factories, and engaged in other types of activism in an attempt to prevent further technological development. Ultimately, the Luddites were unsuccessful, but when people started to question technology in large numbers again in the 1970s, they revived the concept, calling themselves the "New Luddites," and the Neo-Luddite movement was born.

In many cases, people who have questions about the use of technology do not necessarily refer to themselves as Neo-Luddites, although some do. Instead, it is often used in a deprecating way by advocates of technology, to suggest that the thinking of Neo-Luddites is outdated and outmoded. The fantastic failure of the original Luddite movement is sometimes cited as an argument that opposition to technology is ultimately fruitless.

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The Neo-Luddite position is that rather than assuming that technology is always neutral or even beneficial, people should think about the ramifications of technology. For example, advanced life support systems now allow people to live much longer than was possible in previous eras, but these lives are not always fulfilling or happy. Technology is also used in a variety of ways which could be perceived as harmful; for example, several cities use extensive surveillance systems to keep an eye on the populace, which many people see as a breach of privacy.

Members of this movement are quite diverse, although many are activists and academics. They share a similar distrust or wariness of technology, especially the role of corporate profit, rather than human need, in propelling technological change. Some Neo-Luddites are also opponents of globalization for the same reasons.

Most people would not argue with the Neo-Luddite idea that technology is changing human society, and sometimes even shifting what it means to be human. Stopping to think about the effect of technology on society is the main goal of many Neo-Luddites, some of whom freely admit that some technology can be very beneficial. As often happens with small movements which are critical of a larger social trend, the voices of Neo-Luddites are often overwhelmed by a fringe minority, making it hard for the voice of reason to be heard. Proponents of technology criticize the Neo-Luddite position, arguing that the benefits of advances in technology far outweigh the potential problems and risks.

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bythewell
Post 5

@MrsPramm - Yeah, but you've also got to understand that the reason CFCs are being phased out so easily is because we came up with other technology to replace them.

It's the same thing with cell phones. I don't think we should blame the technology. People just need to be educated. Technology itself isn't the problem. People, as always, are. But they are also the solution.

MrsPramm
Post 4
@clintflint - And that's why I don't think it's a bad thing that the definition of Luddite is starting to turn into someone who is concerned about the consequences of technology.

I think that we are too quick to embrace every new technological advance as though it was inevitable or always beneficial. Not only is it more than possible for new technology to have negative consequences (for example, look at the number of car crashes that have resulted from cell phones) sometimes the whole technology is flawed and shouldn't be used at all. Look at how many times a new medication or chemical has turned out to be extremely dangerous. Off the top of my head, CFCs is a good example. We're still paying for that with the hole in the ozone.

And it's another good example of what can happen when we actually take steps to remove the problem. Once the world realized that CFCs were dangerous they started to phase them out and now the ozone layer is recovering.

clintflint
Post 3

I've always associated Luddism was negative connotations. I guess my friends would use the term to tease someone like their parents or grandparents who was suspicious of new technology. It was generally used to imply that they simply didn't understand the technology and that was why they didn't like it.

To be honest, it's not the best term, because the Luddites weren't marching against mechanical technology because they misunderstood it. They understood only too well what it would mean and that it would cause them to lose their jobs. It wasn't a case of them trying to stop the march of progress. It's more like a union protest today, where people are simply trying to make sure they don't lose their livelihood.

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