Saturday, May 19, 2018

Luddite Tech Support

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From Librarian Shipwreck (Libraries, Archives, Technology, Impending Doom):

Why the Luddites Matter
Colloquialisms have a remarkable way of convincing their users that they have done their homework. All that is needed is a spoonful of vaguely historically adjacent meaning to be stirred in with the waters of repeat usage, and suddenly a speaker feels confident that they understand the capital “t” truth behind a term or idea. After all, the thinking goes, if this usage of this term isn’t historically accurate, then why has this term become used in this way? Why indeed. But if you are going to use a term because of the evocative historic meaning you think is bound up in it, you probably want to make sure that you’re getting your history right.

Which brings us to the Luddites.

It is undeniable that the term Luddite has become fairly common shorthand in much of the English speaking world. As it is commonly deployed in regular discourse the term has come to be an easy descriptor for someone who “hates technology,” someone who is “afraid of technology,” or someone who is simply “bad with technology.” Depending on its specific usage, Luddite is can either be used as an expression of comical self-deprecation, or it is thrown about as an insult. Lurking somewhere in the background of most people’s usage of the term is just enough historical knowledge to get partial credit on a history test: the Luddites were some people long ago in England who smashed some machines. Onto this basic foundation, other things wind up getting thrown in as well: the Luddites hated technology, the Luddites hated progress, if the Luddites won we’d be living in caves, the Luddites were illiterate idiots, and so forth. As the historian E.P. Thompson aptly observed before laying waste to the historical basis of this belief, “Luddism lingers in the popular mind as an uncouth, spontaneous affair of illiterate handworkers, blindly resisting machinery.”[2] For a society awash in smartphones, in love with the Internet, and with its hopes for a better future pinned on Silicon Valley – the Luddites appear as the perfect bogeymen. The specter of the Luddites makes it easy to disparage anyone who dares speak out against anything technological by painting them as fools pining for the past who really just want everyone to go live in caves in the woods.

Of course, much of this popular imaginary of the historic Luddites is dead wrong. When the term Luddite is swung about carelessly it smashes any sense of historical nuance, and supplants contemporary values and ideologies for those actually held by the Luddites. Used as a colloquial epithet, Luddite is a powerful method for cutting off critical thinking....MUCH MORE
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