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Why the Luddites Matter (librarianshipwreck.wordpress.com)
261 points by imartin2k on May 12, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 128 comments

Thoughtful, well-researched post.

People reading this may be interested in Lord Byron's first speech to the House of Lords as well, which was a full-throated defense of the Luddites. As you might guess, it's beautifully written. It also nicely magnifies the historical irony of Byron fathering Ada Lovelace.


"Considerable injury has been done to the proprietors of the improved frames. These machines were to them an advantage, inasmuch as they superseded the necessity of employing a number of workmen, who were left in consequence to starve. By the adoption of one species of frame in particular, one man performed the work of many, and the superfluous labourers were thrown out of employment. Yet it is to be observed, that the work thus executed was inferior in quality, not marketable at home, and merely hurried over with a view to exportation. It was called, in the cant of the trade, by the name of Spider-work. The rejected workmen, in the blindness of their ignorance, instead of rejoicing at these improvements in arts so beneficial to mankind, conceived themselves to be sacrificed to improvements in mechanism. In the foolishness of their hearts, they imagined that the maintenance and well doing of the industrious poor, were objects of greater consequence than the enrichment of a few individuals by any improvement in the implements of trade which threw the workmen out of employment, and rendered the labourer unworthy of his hire. And, it must be confessed, that although the adoption of the enlarged machinery, in that state of our commerce which the country once boasted, might have been beneficial to the master without being detrimental to the servant; yet, in the present situation of our manufactures, rotting in warehouses without a prospect of exportation, with the demand for work and workmen equally diminished, frames of this construction tend materially to aggravate the distresses and discontents of the disappointed sufferers. But the real cause of these distresses, and consequent disturbances, lies deeper."

I think this fragment clearly spells out what the Luddites were back then and what they are remembered for today.

No, the Luddites where not against technology, and those using the term properly are not saying that. Luddites rebelled against workplace automation, with the explicit view that it renders skilled human labor unable to compete and has disastrous social consequences. To call someone a modern Luddite has a very specific meaning, it denotes opposition based on employment circumstances.

We aren't talking about Google Glass, mass surveillance, social credits or any ethically troubling technology that is yet to be accepted by society. We are talking about technology designed to increase productivity of regular, already accepted goods that has no nefarious effects other than unemployment, and that, during the last 300 years, increased productivity, lower prices and released humanity from industrial slavery.

The question is: can this process go on forever, aren't we hitting a hard ceiling of human adaptability where the thinking machines will make us totally unable to compete in the workplace? The Luddites matter, but not in the way the author surmises.

> you do not have to let a tech company screaming “technological progress” in your face turn you into a paragon of passivity

This was the article's highlight for me. As a senior programmer I found myself saying "no" to more and more tech nowadays -- smart speakers are and will always be not welcome in my house, I carefully study mobile app permissions and deny everything but the absolutely necessary minimum (on my mother's phone as well), I am unplugging microphones and webcams when not using them, I refuse to buy washing machines and any kind of kitchen tech with touch screens (they are awfully non-durable, big surprise right?) and prefer tech with real, physical buttons.

I am never gonna give WiFi access to my TV. I am even considering making my home WiFi network hidden (not advertised). If you manually specify SSID and password you will connect alright but you can never see the SSID. I feel this might be a necessary default before too long. We'll see.

I did give WiFi access to my printer because accessing it through the router's USB port turned into a nightmare of problems and inconsistency. I disallowed it to make outgoing connections (through the router) anywhere but in the local network however -- I don't want it going to the internet.

Point is, new tech is marketed as "progress" for mercantile reasons by the big corps and me and many others aren't just taking their word for it when they say it's for the best of all of us.

My rather depressing observation has been that historically, ever since the 90s, technology and especially computers / phones aren't used to improve people's lives; they only complicate them and increase people's time, energy and money expenses. To actually improve your life with tech you have to go a lot of extra miles.

The marketed "progress" technologies don't deserve the benefit of the doubt lately. It's all but a historical fact that most "progress" is mostly "guys, here's a new market we just invented, please buy because we want the money".

Depending on who you are concerned about with regards to protecting your wifi, hiding your SSID will mostly only annoy legitimate users. The most basic script kiddie tools for breaking your wifi encryption will easily detect hidden SSIDs. Even Windows informs you that a hidden wifi network is available, it calls it "Other Network."

I just checked this on Windows 10. It even calls it a "Hidden Network". How entertaining! :)

I didn't know the details, thank you! Appreciate the clarifications.

I get where you're coming from but to say that computers and phones aren't used to improve people's lives is ridiculous.

GPS in my pocket. Internet connected calorie counting app. Streaming whatever show I want on demand instead of watching the one show that's on. Paying $120 dollars a year to listen to whatever music I want to. A calendar that's on all my devices that my wife can add things on. A speaker that can stream my music straight from the internet by itself.

Those are just the things I can think off of the top of my head.

Would your relationship with your wife improve, or deteriorate, if you were deprived of the TV shows you watch? Maybe for you, losing TV would be a bad thing. Maybe. But for many, being entertained more easily is not necessarily an improvement to life. And that's kind of the point of the article. Technology is good... except for when it's not. We need to get better at evaluating it for what it really contributes to life.

Can you explain to me how being entertained more easily not an improvement? I'm not sure I understand.

One notion is that it reduces the time available where you can be more deeply involved together in activities that are more life affirming and relationship sustaining.

Well I might have exaggerated. :)

I do make heavy use of my phone's productivity apps -- calendars, shopping lists, todo lists, and many others. What I do not use though is stuff like Facebook and the numerous mind-numbing "games" trying to strong-arm you into buying their diamond currency every 15 minutes.

I also make heavy use of Safari's ability to pull my MacBook's tabs to my iPhone or iPad, or between any of them. Really helps when you started reading something at home and then want to finish reading it while in the subway, for example.

Let's just say that I am a proponent of the idea to make my devices work for me, not me working for them. And sadly the latter is what we are nudged towards by many apps and services. It seems everybody is trying to addict us and we have to actively fight that back and make sure our devices help our lives and don't turn us into zombies. Would you concur on that point?

That I do concur with. I also don't use Facebook for the reasons you stated, although I'm still trying to kick my Reddit habit.

I am never gonna give WiFi access to my TV.

Ditto. My so-called "smart" TV gets HDMI inputs and that's it. An external device connects to the Internet for Netflix etc and if that device ever displeases me or becomes truly obsolete, it can be swapped out for another. But it is extremely difficult to buy a non-smart-TV above a certain size these days. All I wanted was a high quality screen and some inputs - I don't believe in regular upgrades, too much e-waste, I want something that will last as long as a Trinitron did.

By the way, HDMI supports an Ethernet channel. Depeding on your setup, it may be possible for the TV to get online without a Wifi password or any cables other than power+HDMI.

This happened to a friend with a Samsung TV. One of his devices relayed Ethernet via HDMI to the Samsung and suddenly it started a firmware upgrade.

Pretty valuable feedback! I will just make sure to use an HDMI cable supporting older version of the standard. That should do the trick.

I'm not even convinced of the usefulness of extremely large screens.

You end up having to sit progressively further away from them the bigger they are, which probably requires progressively larger rooms to put the TV in.

Depends on what you're watching, but to be immersed you're looking for a 16:9 screen to be 30 degrees of width (for immersive cinema you want 40")

At 8', that's 60" screen size for 30 degrees (80" for cinema)

Now I treat these with a pinch of salt, they're SMPTE values, and the last SMPTE event I went to we all agreed that in the UK 4K is pretty much pointless for 80% of the country, but SMPTE can't say that because panel manufacturers want to sell new screens every few years. Still 30 degrees feels like a fairly good number.

Assuming you have 20:20 vision, and have a 60" TV, it's only worth going to UHD over 1080 for resolution if you're nearer than 8'. For a 40" TV, it's 5'.

Now UHD comes with other benefits, namely a higher temporal resolution (interlace has gone, there's no 2160i - thank god), and higher dynamic range. I suspect they'll flog 8k panels for the Tokyo 2020 olympics, but bundle 120fps at the same time.

That's the real problem with modern TVs. Several "upgraded" aspects come together in a bundle:

• Bigger screens.

• Much better screens (like QLED by Samsung).

• Better hertz values (doesn't irritate the eyes).

• More "smart" builtin software and firmware, with tons of bugs and security holes.

• Bigger resolution.

I'd take all of the above points except the smart TV software. To be perfectly fair I also think 4K is the absolute maximum for resolution that we need to use on TVs for like 5-10 years, too. As many people pointed out in the past in other threads here in HN, I'd love for these TVs to come in two packages -- with and without the hardware module that gives it its "smart" software.

Alas, we don't have the choice. Our best course of action is:

(1) Never give our TV access to our WiFi network.

(2) Make sure to buy an HDMI cable with lower protocol version so it doesn't pass-through your Ethernet connection.

It's a pretty screwed up market. I bet 10-20% of the price of the modern TVs comes from the supposed value proposition of the "smart" features and our group of users pays this premium without needing it.

8K exists, and will be in use for at least some of the 2020 olympics.

why will 5-10 years make any difference? Will living rooms become larger?

I mean that I am not very sure the human eye can even distinguish between 4K and 8K, provided at least 60FPS.

IMO we're hitting maximum levels beyond which there's no sense to continue -- except to sell us the latest and the shiniest.

Required resolution depends on field of view, which tends to be well under 40 degrees required for "movie" style experience for most people even now

However 4K isn't worth it until you get over 30 degrees, and any higher isnt worth it unless your tv is too large, at least with modern cinematic techniques.

That's subjective though, I think we can all agree.

I have a pretty decent Philips 58" TV and to be fair, watching it from the bed (2.5 - 3.0 meters) it does seem small to me.

However, if I am to buy a gaming console and sit like 1.5 meters away from the TV then it seems to be plenty enough, even a bit bigger than needed.

I will probably settle for 65" in the next 1-2 years or, if I want to spend a lot of money, 75". But that's because I plan on having a 40+ square meters (131 sq. ft.) living room.

Pretty good if you like to watch movies with friends.

I am generally the same. I have a smart tv, but mostly because it was 4k than it's "smart" capabilities. Once I am out of an apartment and into a house. I am going to have a much stronger/stricter network policies along with avoiding other "smart" devices.

I'm with you, there are entire classes of technology I resent and avoid and it's getting worse as I get older.

My "smart TV" is a 4K Samsung with all it's smart features turned off connected to a PC running Xubuntu because that way I have control over it.

I don't own a single IoT thing, I have about 5 apps installed on my phone (4 of which are Chess related, 1 is my bank), I use the mobile web for everything else, if you don't have a usable web app I don't use your product.

I deliberately minimise the amount of technology to 'plain' computers running Linux because I understand those and feel in control.

No smart toasters for me.

Great? Most people are HN readers who can do this sort of thing. Most people have "tv that can just show tv" and "new technology that can also embed netflix or whatever" as options.

If your access point doesn't advertise your SSID, your clients will. It's a bit counterintuitive, but in practice hiding your SSID does the opposite of what it says.

Could you please expand on that with an example? I am yet to read anything on hidden SSIDs, I'll appreciate the human explanation.


tl;dr from the article:

> If the network name of a wireless network (SSID) is not broadcast, the clients must search for it with probe requests. So if you have one AP and 100 wireless devices, you partially limit exposure of the network name with one device while causing 100 devices to expose it instead.

Thank you.

Especially, mobile devices like laptops, smartphones etc will then have to send probe requests constantly, even if youre away from home... informing any eavesdropper around of essid and probably also bssid.

Most OSes do this anyway to speed up the connection process (try to attach to last n networks and see what sticks). Can be abused to learn about past locations of that device by asking one of the wifi location api databases (iOS, win, google/android):


Edit: couldnt find good links about rapid wifi connecting procedures but here's an older article about Apple's rapid dhcp mechanism:


> I am never gonna give WiFi access to my TV.

I had XBMC hooked up to my TV with samba share years before smart TVs were really popular.

I really liked wifi tv then, and I really like it now. Improved my life.

That's a much more legit use case. I plan on buying the latest RPi and install KODI on it, and hook it to my TV. Complemented with my router using Pi-Hole (RPi-based DNS server that filters out ads and tracking) I am pretty certain that it's gonna be pretty seamless and much better experience than the "smart TV software".

I have the same, Raspberry Pi with kodi pulling from a samba share on an ubuntu server.

Yes, it is unfortunate that the term "Luddite" has become shorthand for irrational dislike of technology while the historical Luddites had a very rational (if self-interested) reason to dislike mechanization.

They didn't even intrinsically dislike mechanisation. They just viewed machine sabotage as an effective tactic.

The straw man of them being anti technology crusaders was entirely a stereotype created and perpetuated by capitalists.

Yeah the story is not so much about being anti-technology rayger it's about taking action when technology ceases to be a tool for the common good and instead enables a handful to place inhuman levels of leverage over the majority with it.

The captialists had a very rational (if self-interested) reason to dislike the luddites. They just viewed straw men as an effective tactic.

>> rational

when it's about people, "rational" is the last thing we need. Empathy, sympathy, compassion is what you need.

Compassion and sympathy without reason just lead to activities that don't help those who are supposed to be helped, and may even harm them.

Reason is not incompatible with compassion.

Rationality is mostly orthogonal to empathy, sympathy and compassion. Think of it this way: empathy, sympathy, and compassion are inputs. Rationality is the reasoning process. If you're rational but don't have those three inputs, you'll end up as a highly-functional sociopath. If you do have those three inputs but don't think rationally, you'll make a lot of wrong decisions that hurt people you're trying to help.

Why are those superior attributes to rationality?

because "rationally" i should kill you and take your money and food

but "empathetically" i don't want the same thing to happen to me, so i tolerate your existence in hopes that you tolerate mine

No. What you describe as rational is, you might say, not well reasoned. If your reason only operates on the next several hours or days into the future, perhaps you have a point. I intend to live my entire life with as much happiness and joy as possible. Rationally, my thriving over years far outweighs any mere survival in a short-sighted sense. And importantly, your idea of what is rational doesn't lead there. It's simply foolish, momentary satiation.

For anyone taking your proposed rational course, however, me and my more rationally self-interested cohorts will eventually get wind of that game (assuming they act "rationally" according to your proposition), we'll band together to defeat them: after all it's in our interest to do so. Not that we're somehow altruists, but that we're self-interested for the long term, over the course of our lives rather than the next meal.

But even so, we don't need the threat of being pummeled by opponents to recognize the course of action you propose as "rational" is mere fools gold; we can see the benefits of the products of others as being far more enhancing than any one meal or some temporary bit of wealth. I gain tremendous benefit from the productivity of other people. Some of those people are artists, some are sanitation workers, some are engineers, and almost all I will have never known individually or even of their existence beyond the output of their minds and labor. It is in -my interest- that -they- thrive in a reasonable way, too. It's in my rational self-interest that they know they will reap the rewards of their efforts, rather than for me to simply steal it and undermine that trust.

All of this I can derive from the rational pursuit of my own self-interest.

There isn't a moment in recorded history where one human acting alone has outperformed a group of humans working in tandem. It just doesn't happen.

You sometimes get scenarios where one human has disproportionate social control over a group, but even then experiments with democracy have shown it overwhelmingly outperforms the competition. So far on both an absolute and a per capita basis. Many (most?) of our morals also happen to be game-theory optimums that you would raitionally see value in even as a true sociopath.

What you describe isn't rational, it is some combination of desperation and short term thinking. The rational approach has always been to organise and cooperate. If you actually tried to behave that way you would discover that what you call 'behaving rationally' will involve you having no material goods, comfort or prospect for obtaining them.

> Many (most?) of our morals also happen to be game-theory optimums that you would raitionally see value in even as a true sociopath.

Yet our sociopaths are all up running companies that destroy the environment. They seem to entirely gravitate towards the very behaviors the person you're replying to is afraid of (i.e., self-serving philosophies, domination and exploitation of others, etc.).

The problem is that the only scale that matters to a logic-only person is the scale of their personal life. And you can build yourself a pretty nice life while walking all over other people and not care at all that this will only survive for one generation, because then you'll be gone.

There are lots of other problems here, such as lack of the veil of ignorance. There's no mechanism to prevent the logic-focused mindset from gravitating towards castes if they think they and their children are safe from being in the bad castes.

Game-theory optimums are available to people through emotions and intuition. They're not available through logic (immediate logical processing is self-focused and therefore plays right into the worst parts of game theory: it doesn't have enough time to arrive at your thinking here). That's why people without these things tend to... uhh... have trouble adjusting, and the people who have enough mental processing to simulate and adjust tend to do pretty awful things.

ok, i have a better one:

"rationally", i shouldn't care about global warming because it's inconvenient to alter my lifestyle and because global warming will not affect me as much in my lifetime

but "empathetically" i care about the future environment i'm leaving for future humans

You're using 'rational' as something devoid from worldview - which it can't be.

Rationally I should have multiple children, as my only legacy is my name.

Still rational, differing worldview.

Part of the worldview your thoughts on rationallity betray is that only the 'here and now' matter. Which only fits a very small philosophy even within the subset of humanity that have no belief in anything supernatural.

A worldview guides not just our view on our relationship to others, and ourselves, and not just moral conduct, but the end goals being targeted. Our rationallity cannot be divorced from our motivations.

Some worldviews are just 'to live another day', others are more nuanced, measuring impact against criteria.

For example, frugality is a worldview, where you don't have any rational compulsion to kill, steal and hoarde, as you don't need it anyway.

> Rationally I should have multiple children, as my only legacy is my name.

I would say that any view that includes a concept such as "legacy" is already highly irrational... there's nothing rational about having a world view that you do not call into doubt.

At the end of the day, you'll just gravitate towards a worldview that's the easiest to support. That's what tends to happen to people since cognitive dissonance hurts. There's nothing rational whatsoever in this entire process and it is the very start of the problem, you can't ignore it.

The whole problem with "rational" is that it's a poor term that got appropriated to describe behaviors that are not actually rational.

"Rational" is mostly a shorthand for "logically derived", which is only one rather shallow facet of processing, and, not all that surprisingly, can lead to rather irrational behaviors, like the ones the person you're responding to is referencing. It often leads to nihilism, amoral philosophies, and other things that play right into the worst parts of game theory. Because this is what we naturally do if we turn off other processing. We have all the other processing for a reason.

Emotions, intuition, and experience are all very important. Pure logic cannot replace them, it is simply too slow, and there's simply not enough information. The reason a lot of us are really annoyed with rationalists is because they're walking around saying all those things don't matter.

It sounds like you've had a bad experience with rationalists. I can sympathise :P. Loudly claiming to be 'logical' and 'a rationalist' is rarely a logical or rational act, so the people who do it ironically tend not be either (the exception in my book is if they really enjoy arguing with or annoying other people).

But rationalism isn't short-termism. Rationalists can execute long term plans, potentially even multi-generational beneficial schemes, just as well as everyone else. And just as badly. As the comment you replied to succinctly argues, there is no causation between rationalism and values.

As an aside, logic isn't related to rationality any more deeply than logic is tied in to anything else. I suppose the opposite of a rationalist is a religious fundamentalist? Religious fundamentalists can be extremely logical too (as in, their actions can be completely consistent with their assumptions). Logic is just a technique to tell if some of your beliefs are inconsistent, it isn't monopolised by any given world view. And it certainly can't create new beliefs out of nothing, only evidence can do that.

Rationally, you're better off helping (or at least not actively harming) your fellow humans as part of a social covenant where they also help (or at least not actively harm) you.

Empathy is a mechanism for implementing morality, and all morality is enlightened self-interest.

Rational is exactly what is needed. People suck, and sympathy for their suckiness and failings is the last thing that will spur meaningful progress in the crusade to make people suck less.

I wish I was kidding.

That's a really high horse you're sitting on.

My takeaway : "You probably want to be able to feed your children (if you have any), you probably don’t want to be driven into poverty, and you probably feel that your economic security is at least as important as your boss’s ability to buy a new vacation home"

The Amish are another group whose name is synonymous with rejecting all technology, but whose story is much more nuanced. They carefully consider each technology and try it out on selected individuals to see what effect it has on them, their family, and their community. They're not afraid to reject a technology or to set limits on its use; they're also not afraid to adopt a technology if it's useful to them.

Howard Rheingold's 1999 article (https://www.wired.com/1999/01/amish/) is a classic. Kevin Kelly has also written a lot about the Amish and their relation to technology.

Luddites are just people disempowered by automation and capitalism: if its cheaper to use machines than people, automation makes people effectively jobless - and if automation touches multiple sectors of economy it multiplies the effect by squeezing out people from multiple sides, reducing the labor demand significantly.

If there are no alternative sources of income(welfare, UBI) that correct this, expect many more "Neo-Luddites" to emerge; specifically in areas targeted for automation.

Its not that these people would be "against progress", they would be against more concrete things(such as the article describes) like automated trucks/delivery and start attacking/robbing/sabotaging the machines to discourage their use instead of people. Just like some abuse automated cashiers(cash registers) to steal products and earlier trends of vending machine abuse: it doesn't register to people they are criminals because the target of crime isn't human, therefore justifying their impulse and intention. That means NeoLuddites don't lose their own 'moral high ground' and will be able to easily spread their ideologies as automation carries bigger and bigger chunk of the economy.

more "Neo-Luddites" to emerge; specifically in areas targeted for automation

The difference being that the automation you want to smash is actually thousands of miles away in China; there are no local factories anymore for the neo-Luddites to target.

The automated trucks and cash registers his post refers to cannot be "thousands of miles away in China" and serve their intended purpose.

I think this is where the moral issue pops up. Is handing out bread and circus a meaningful response to taking away people’s agency?

It is, if the goal is to be the next Roman Empire.

That goal, of course, is quite dubious, since it involves illiberality, authoritarianism, etc.

The term is overused, yes. But sometimes it's correct.

The taxi industry (especially black cabs in London) fits everything in this article, in my opinion. People who "just want to feed their children" trying to force democracy and capitalism to purchase a product (their skill, called "the knowledge") that has become obsolete, a product nobody needs anymore.

You have a skill. I'm sorry, that skill is no longer required in the world of 2018 for many years. Your job can now actually be done by anyone, and that is why you're getting competition. It's as if everyone with a liberal art's degree would demand to become a famous artist.

(a difference being of course that London black cabs are hugely corrupt, as seen by blatant disregard for payment rules, tax law, traffic rules and the fact that they fairly successfully make TFL act against the interests of everyone-who-is-not-a-black-cab-driver, which is most people)

rant over

The author perceives an unjust smear against historical Luddites, and protests the way that this cuts off critical thinking about the issue of technology in our lives. They highlight that historical Luddites had noble and relatable motives, like wanting better wages to feed their families. They entreat us to think with nuance on the issue. A good and fair point.

But then, just paragraphs later, the same author casually throws out two of the most charged smears in modern discourse: "In the midst of recent years that have shown the sorts of racist and misogynistic biases that are often endemic in the tech world...". There is no explanation or justification of what is meant by this. There is certainly no nuance.

This seems endemic to modern discourse. We want a fair hearing of our own beliefs. We feel persecuted when others smear us. But we see no problem tossing around harsh judgments of others, with no nuance or recognition of other people's potentially noble goals.

I wonder if this author would be willing to give a fair and nuanced hearing towards people who are conservative on immigration (for example). Worry about immigrants taking jobs is one of the top reasons people give for opposing immigration. So the original Luddites and people who are conservative on immigration have something in common.

I think this paragraph from the article takes on new meaning if you substitute "immigration" and "xenophobia" for "technology" and "technophobia". I wonder if the author would still support the argument:

> And I must report that it seems quite obvious that terms like “anti-technology” and even “technophobia” are just signs of lazy thinking, they say far more about the person using those terms than the people being accused of being “anti-technology.” In the vast majority of cases when you actually consider what these so-called “anti-technology” folks believe you realize that they don’t oppose “all” technology but (brace yourself) particular technologies, being used in particular ways, in a particular context. This is not to pretend that genuinely “extreme” cases don’t exist, but to claim that someone who thinks Facebook has become too big wants us all to go back to living in the woods is patently absurd. Yet it is the type of absurdity that becomes common in a society that has lost the ability to think critically about technology.

My goal overall isn't to shame the author though. I want to argue that we should apply this charity towards everyone making arguments, not just the people who align with us.

I think one of those points is the historical context the argument considers and the consequences that surround it and who is making the argument. For example, if an accused white supremacist in a position of power makes an argument for immigration, should we apply this charity?

The author is arguing for critical thinking. If a person makes an argument and we write it off because of that person's identity, that is the opposite of critical thinking. We could as easily write off the Luddites for being violent lawbreakers.

Like "racist", "white supremacist" is tossed around ever more liberally in modern discourse. At Evergreen this year, people left graffiti saying that science without intersectionality is white supremacy. We need to engage ideas critically precisely to determine whether charges like "accused white supremacist" are even accurate.

> Frankly, the Luddites wanted to be able to feed their children, they didn’t want to be driven into poverty, and they thought those things were more important than the factory owners becoming wealthier and more powerful

The effect of industrial revolution was not just factory owners being wealthier or more powerful. It raised the workers wages and increased living standards for everyone

This is an oversimplifying response to an article that brings some nuance into history of the period.

Understanding history is not just about passing verdicts on the outcomes with the benefit of hindsight. It's about understanding the process of change, why it happened, and how people living at the time viewed the changes and reacted to them.

An article like this sheds light on a lot of those topics, including people's beliefs about their economic rights at that time. It corrects common misconceptions about the Luddites. It demonstrates that the outcomes of the Industrial Revolution were not inevitable, and that people's understanding of what was going on at the time was very different than our understanding of it today. It opens the door to further research for people interested in the topic. It doesn't deserve a handwavy dismissal.

Which misconceptions? I read up until he even pulled the racism card and learned exactly nothing. Obviously they didn't destroy all technology a feat which would require a lot of technology.

Yes, but that is not something the Luddites could see from where they were standing and plenty of them did end up hungry. The problem with progress is that it does nothing whatsoever for those that are being displaced, and to tell them to 'have the long view' does not solve their immediate problems.

Humans just don't live long enough to benefit as a generation when it comes to this kind of rapid and radical progress, which is sad.

That said, I think the issue is largely one of mindset. Although we don't live very long, we are unusually adaptable, a feature which becomes lost in the comfort of an agreeable status quo. Unfortunately for the Luddites, it wasn't a feature that manifested again when that status quo was upended.

Across time the vast majority of crime seems to originate with hunger and other desperate situations.

As the saying goes: revolutions happen when the price of bread goes too high.

And something we witnessed during the Arab Spring.

Over time, and over lots of fighting. It didn't look like it when it's your boss that started to suppress your wages thanks to a new machine.

Yes, the industrial revolution enabled increased wages and living standards. But for them to actually happen, and trickle down to workers, people had to fight hard. The modern working standards are literally written in tears and blood of our forefathers.

Technically, (somewhat) increased living standards are a inevitable consequence of significant production improvements in a not-completely-disfunctional economy. That doesn't really help in the short term though.


> literally written in tears and blood

figuratively; tears and blood make shit writing materials.

You must have not gotten the memo about the word "literally"


Until you can provide a alternative word that only means "literally", "literally" means "literally", not "figuratively".

>Until you can provide a alternative word that only means "literally", "literally" means "literally", not "figuratively".

You're welcome to use the word as you please. The majority of the English speaking world, however, disagrees with you. If you care about clarity and precision, "literally" is a word to avoid.

>>> people had to fight hard

that's the unfortunate truth about "wealth redistribution" (aka "inequality").

it's quite logical : those who have much don't feel the need to give as much as those who feel the need to have more.

It wasn't really about wealth redistribution. It was about not exploiting people to the limits of possibility, and then discarding the hulks. The work conditions during early industrial revolution were inhumane.

It raised the workers wages and increased living standards for everyone

Right, but the pitch goes something like this: "sometime after you and your family have starved to death, people you've never met will enjoy increased living standards, and they won't even remember you or your sacrifice, pretty neat huh?".

Not very compelling, is it? Would you take that deal? Something like it is being offered to Workers in the trucking industry right now...

And it's far from the only such industry. We need something like universal basic income, or one of two alternatives will happen: most people will suffer in droves, or they'll break out the metaphorical guillotine of our times.

The people at the top of the economic foodchain are usually for too short-sighted to consider what will happen then.

Our current working environment is quite different now though, for the Luddites the only major employers in the area would have been the factories, and mobility just wasn’t there (you had to live within walking distance of your employer for obvious reasons). A trucker can find another job, and it’s not like we are going to remove truckers overnight, if ever, self driving cars are always a couple of years away and there will be major regulatory and employment hurdles to overcome before those jobs are taken out. It’s not comparable to dropping a new machine into a factory.

>The effect of industrial revolution was not just factory owners being wealthier or more powerful. It raised the workers wages and increased living standards for everyone

Which doesn't matter much when you and your family starves -- as their families did, and workers fucked over by globalization and automation do.

One could shrug it off as "the cost of progress", but that's a luxury one has only when they are among those benefiting from it.

If you define industrial revolution narrowly just as technological revolution and new industries, you are wrong. If you defined as a change in the whole society, you are right.

Technological advances -> new industries -> social tensions and hard political battle -> social changes -> living standards increased for everyone.

Everyone makes a living wage from their work?

Try explaining to people that you’re a programmer who doesn’t own a cell phone, and count the seconds till this term gets raised. It’s disheartening to watch our society practically force others through attempted shaming to follow the acceptable path. I admit feebly that I bought a cell phone because the infotainment system in my car is garbage, and that seems to silence the worst of it, but I feel it’s going against my own values to even bring up that glorified internet radio as roughly equivalent to their pocket leash just so I don’t have to defend my pride yet again.

I'm somewhere in between - I do have a smartphone (and even use some location-based services), but I'm pretty picky about what apps I'll use on mine. Not to mention, I only use Gmail for things directly related to the Play Store.

I've been a tech/gadget freak for pretty much all of my life, but I'm really starting to utterly hate the Internet of Shit. If I'm going to run a surveillance camera, I'd much rather build a Raspberry Pi-based system than buy a commercial one. I damn well DON'T want my car connected to the internet - if I want internet in the car, my phone will do just fine. When I bought a TV about a year and a half ago, I made sure that the set itself was dumb as a rock [0]; any "smarts" get plugged into HDMI ports.

[0] If I looked for a TV today, I might not even have that option. :(

I imagine programmers, on average, need phones less than other occupations do.

I wear the label proudly. ;-)

When people call me a Luddite, as they invariably do, I tell them (my opinion) that the Luddites weren't anti-technology per se, but concerned about the effect of technology on society.

Now, I do happen to own a cell phone, but mentioning its cost (40 bucks plus 10 bucks a month) is usually sufficient to earn me the Luddite tag.

Have you written about your motivations or experience without a cell phone?

I've been considering getting rid of mine (and a local friend switched to a dumb phone[0]) but RMS is the first person that comes to mind when I think of a programmer without a cell phone.

[0]: http://jordancrane.me/2018/04/16/the-dumbphone-chronicles/

I'm also a programmar without a phone or cell. No TV either. I beat people to the punch & laugh about being a technoluddite. Goes along with my at-home development environment being a linux tty & staying off Facebook. Have a nice century old home. My boss is thinking of buying me a cell. I tend towards a lot of seemingly contradictory behavior: philosophically I'm somewhat of a stoic/hedonist hybrid

I think programmers are more likely to opt out of things like cell phones. More likely to be technically competent enough to be work around challenges of going with simplicity & more likely to want that simplicity. Also more likely to see behind the curtain of this post privacy world

I'm a bit like your friend, and I add one more twist, I have my phone off quite frequently. Not switched to silence, just off. I don't need to be reachable at any time of day or night.

I haven't written about it, but that's a good idea. Thanks!

> Try explaining to people that you’re a programmer who doesn’t own a cell phone, and count the seconds till this term gets raised.

Reporting in! Nobody has ever called me this -- to my face, at least.

Like no cell phone at all? So did you just use a landline? Or did you tell people to email you instead of calling or texting?

I prefer email for things that don't require my immediate attention. Landlines are my preference for home, but the bundling of VOIP has made POTS cost ineffective, and lazy companies are too quick to use SMS for their 2FA now that it's becoming a requirement to have one nearby regularly.

At some point I may end up just moving my data-only phone from my car to my home as part of my commute but 2FA requirements right now are still light enough I would rather suffer the inconvenience of walking back to my car to get the device I use for my radio.

I think a google glass type product will be back eventually

Class wanted to maintain status quo, and resorted to violence as part of that campaign... it has nothing to do with technology itself. Why does it matter? It may matter like any other labour movement matters.

The problem I have with the Luddites was their assumption that they were entitled to their way of life. It’s a similar refrain heard today... coal miners want more protection so they can continue to live and work in cole mining towns. They just want to feed their children... something we can all related to. But if times change, then you have to change with then. You don’t get to hold the rest of society hostage... either thru slowing tech progress via violence.. or continuing to support an industry that is destroying the planet.

Can the average coal miner realistically move on with the times, or are you just asking them to die in penury? Maybe when we phase out a whole way of life for the greater good, we need to take care of the people left behind. If not, then of course they’ll fight tooth and nail, and we deserve it for expecting them to just bed over and take it for everyone’s benefit, but their’s.

Yes... I’m sure they can. It’s primarily a choice. And let’s not pretend that we’re talking about the underprivileged. Coal miners often make more than college graduates.

Often those fighting the hardest are doing so because they have a sweet deal. The people who are actually poor are more flexible... already working several jobs, or taking night classes to do better.

In the end it’s entightlement plain and simple.

Yes... I’m sure they can. It’s primarily a choice. And let’s not pretend that we’re talking about the underprivileged. Coal miners often make more than college graduates.

Working harder too, and in a single very specialized field. So you take that away, what skills do they have? What choices are they free to make?

Often those fighting the hardest are doing so because they have a sweet deal.

The sweet deal of working deep underground on a coal face, in dirty, dangerous conditions? Uh huh. Besides you’re proving their point, when people out there just shrug and say “fuck ‘em, not my problem,” who wouldn’t fight? They don’t owe you anything either.

Not to mention that your “average salary” bit is deceptive. The average salary for a coal miner is around $65,000, while the average salary for a recent college grad with a bachelor’s is $50,000. Obviously that includes everything from engineering to expressive dance, and there is no definite ceiling. A coal miner is stuck on the low end, period, and painting them as privelaged... on HN... is pathetic.

Here’s a coal miner... "It's not an easy life here," he says. "But I think it's about the best life you can have."

Imagine instead of a blue collar worker which is easy to empathize with or glorify... a banker or lawyer or some other less well liked worker. Imagine those people making good money... saying their industry needs to be protected just so they can keep their jobs.


$65k is not low paying. Haha. And they’ve made life choices to be there and do that, rather than prioritize other things.

My grandfather came to this country with nothing and put both his sons thru college, working multiple jobs, learning English.. with no skills! Never would he have complained if the company he worked at over 8 hours a day putting stuff in boxes closed because they were killing people. Coal is destroying the world plain and simple. It’s not much to ask to move on. It’s an industry that needs to end.

To some extent the miner is the vanguard of your ability to discuss this on the internet. We can't run the grid on lumber or "energy crops," and all the other options (solar, wind, fracking, hydroelectric, geothermal) have very similar environmental impacts to coal energy.

There's an advanced energy ecosystem that keeps a lot of really subtle and important things running as the human ecosystem evolves. Maybe at some point coal mining does get phased out in favor of less energy and cleaner energy, but you're gambling on that miner's tonnage not being necessary to clear that gap.

A society could also say, "No, coal stops tomorrow," but a lot of places tried "Everyone's a farmer tomorrow" in the 20th century for very similar reasons and hundreds of millions of people starved to death.

That coal miner isn't only feeding his family, that miner feeds and warms probably thousands of people. To phase out his job, you need a willful change in the infrastructure of the places he serves: you would need everyone to live somewhere without heating, to give up some amount of electricity use, and to begin food production independent of energy (which is a lark, if you've ever tried to grow a crop it is not easy, especially without Haber process or crop defense agents).

...all the other options (solar, wind, fracking, hydroelectric, geothermal) have very similar environmental impacts to coal energy.

You're going to have to back up that claim with some very strong evidence.

Follow the process chains for manufacturing all of these technologies from their constituent ores, transporting them to a suitable location, and constructing the end product of a power plant connected to a durable energy infrastructure. It cannot be done without ore tailings, a preexisting grid (which will decay and will need periodic regeneration), though maybe it can be done without fossil fuels. I still think the coal phase-out is going to take another 50 years. I'd be surprised if burning stopped completely in my lifetime.

Generally speaking, we eat stuff to gain energy and stay alive, and process it into byproducts. Since we need heat and cooking and transit, we end up eating uranium and coal as much as food.

As far as the environmental impacts of the energy economy are concerned, I'd like to think that the worst of it was noticed and mitigated when the EPA was formed. Lots of the numbers about one form of energy versus another and the cost-benefit analyses are (as my argument was for you) way too much conjecture than I can be comfortable with.

Arguing that things use resources does not support your claim that they use the same resources.

That may be true, but due to a number of scientific conclusions in the 20th century (the uncertainty principle & the incompleteness theorems), I've concluded that all knowledge is at best heuristic, and that claims to the contrary are a form of violence. I'm prepared to claim "all these use resources" but am not prepared to claim "some technologies use certain resources in a way that offer environmental benefit over other technologies, which use different resources." That seems unfair and/or dangerous.

Are you for real? That is the most /r/iamverysmart thing I've ever read.

To elaborate a bit: before the Haber process there were 1 billion people, and they were shipping bat guano from Chile to Europe to prevent hunger. After the Haber process, the population went from 1 billion to 7 billion in less than 100 years, but everyone was in preexisting cities which required heating and stuff.

Fossil fuels and nuclear power are unsavory but they can't be halted without catastrophic repercussions, people freezing and going hungry and unemployed. A world which works without those technologies is not a feasible option for most people, in much the same way as the population explosion almost eradicated subsistence living.

I think the most important thing about the Luddites is they're a reminder that a certain portion of the population in an industrial revolution sees the fruits of the new technologies, but is also experiencing a literally-unbearable negative impact from those same technologies. Which society holds the other hostage is a matter of perspective entirely.

I feel like you are unintentionally making the very point of this article: the Luddites weren't simply "entitled" to their craft, they were entitled to their ability to feed their children and exist in their society. Which I think every human being is very much entitled to. Furthermore, the article specifically insists that they weren't against all technology but instead this particular technology and its use and impact on their society (lower wages etc...).

When you say "You don’t get to hold the rest of society hostage...", this just sounds like another way of calling anyone who disagrees with your thesis a Luddite, and to end the conversation. Who said the "rest of society" agrees with you in the first place?

Your entitled to feed your children... but your not entitled to force the rest of us to support your way of life to do so. The rest of us need to respond to the times and adapt. No one gets to say my job should always exist. Unless ever person can have the same guarantee, then crafts people and coal miners need to adapt like the rest of us.

What about your responsibility to care for me and my children after, through no fault of my own, you completely destroyed my sources of income? Did all my work, now obsoleted, not contribute to society's wealth and progress?

I have a similar view here to what Scott Alexander explained in[0]. Humans were here first, society came later. To quote,

"Society got where it is by systematically destroying everything that could have supported him and replacing it with things that required skills he didn’t have. Of course it owes him when he suddenly can’t support himself. Think of it as the ultimate use of eminent domain; a power beyond your control has seized everything in the world, it had some good economic reasons for doing so, but it at least owes you compensation!"

I'm very much a fan of progress of technology. But I want this progress to be for the good of all of us. Part of that is considering how that progress is affecting people and mitigating the negatives. Anything less is IMO complete lack of empathy.


[0] - http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/08/16/burdens/ - trigger warning: mentions of mental health and suicide. But the conclusion is 100% transplantable to this topic, and the author acknowledged that in the text too.

> complete lack of empathy.

For all I know, empathy might well be a disability that holds each of us back from doing his/her best. Why do you think it is so essential?

(EDIT: changed diction; changes are marked in italics)

My definition of "doing our best" involves empathy as one of its core components.

I apologize for my imprecise diction. I should have said, "disability that holds each of us back from doing his/her best". I have edited my previous comment accordingly.

I still believe that empathy isn't holding us back. As long as you're dealing with other people, everyone having empathy is better than everyone not having it. With empathy, you might "not do your best" by helping someone in their need, but then someone else will help you in your need, and the sum of such interactions gives better payoff to everyone individually than if everyone went completely alone. On the other hand, without widespread empathy, you'd live in constant fear, as any stranger out there - even those you don't know exist - could, at any time, decide to abuse you for their own gain.

I'm forced to pay taxes to support things I don't necessarily like, which I'm ok with provided there is some compromise and discussion, and it serves the greater good. But I'm really starting to notice a lot of things happening that maybe aren't serving the greater good, and I particularly don't care for this authoritative culture developing, mainly among young progressives, that seems to not welcome dissenting opinions.

> exist in their society. Which I think every human being is very much entitled to.

What? No! Maintaining the very existence of each human, requires resources and labor. Obtaining others' resources and labor means you are either purchasing it or stealing it, and if the latter was ethical then we'd have a society full of thieves and bereft of anyone doing any honest productive work. So while you are entitled to exchange some of your valuable things or labor for the valuable things+labor that help you stay alive ... you are most certainly not entitled to simply have them "automatically". There's no such thing as a "free lunch".

>Of course, we know that today the Luddites are not viewed particularly kindly

On the contrary, it is technology and progress that are viewed with scepticism -- watch almost any recent sci-fi movie.


As a UI/UX Designer I design with this audience in mind.

Though working with one is a bit annoying. Hey let’s design it this way it’s simpler umm no I don’t know how to code it that new way let’s do it the way I know. Sigh.

The author's premise is that Luddites are a misunderstood group with a misunderstood agenda but then goes on to immediately say:

"The historic Luddites were skilled craft workers laboring in England in the early 19th century, and they were amongst the first groups to see their jobs and lifestyles fall victim to mechanization; their opposition to 'obnoxious' machinery was in keeping with their view that the imposition of these machines would bring 'a sad end to an honourable craft.'"

...which is exactly why myself and others generally ignore ludditism. To me this seems perfectly in line with the general understanding of the term: people that are being displaced by progress and become generally opposed to said progress as a result, often violently so.

I'm sorry if new technologies are hurting your lifestyle, but if the only way to become heard is to literally destroy that tech, then perhaps no one wants to listen.

Adapt or die. This is the way of evolution.

To give an older, 30 year long rejoinder by a famous, well regarded major American author: the question to ask is, is it OK to be a luddite? https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/97/05/18/r...

Yeah, this article actually confused me a bit, too. I always thought the common understanding of Luddite was "doesn't understand / doesn't care about" technology. Did nothing to dissuade that notion, either.

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