The law of situational Ludditism

As I’ve thought some more about my iPad Luddites post, and the many fine comments that have affixed themselves to its hull, I’ve formulated the following observation:

We are all Luddites, but to avoid admitting our Ludditism to ourselves we will define any manifestation of progress that we don’t approve of as “regress” and criticize it as such.

11 thoughts on “The law of situational Ludditism

  1. Kevin Kelly


    It is impossible for one human to use ALL technology. So each must make choices about what to embrace. The stuff we don’t use we deem “inappropriate,” and what we deem inappropriate defines us.

  2. Rob

    I think the word “progress” doesn’t apply here; makes it sound like all technological change is somehow inevitable or cosmically approved.

    Technological change has winners and losers; perhaps what we try to do with veiled Luddite arguments is generalize our loss to a civilization-wide thing. It’s a plea for a different kind of technological change ultimately; sometimes the most effective argument for that different kind of change is to argue against technology altogether, and pretend that what you are arguing for is not a “technology” but nature shining through.

  3. Seth Finkelstein

    I think this is not useful. It would make as much sense to say something like:

    “We are all anti-freedom, but to avoid admitting our anti-freedom to ourselves we will define any manifestation of freedom that we don’t approve of as “anarchy” and criticize it as such.

    Or, identifying “progress” as roughly “anything which happens with the passage of time” strikes me as a strawman. It’s akin to the argument sometimes seen that “There’s no such thing as freedom of speech, because if I define speech to mean any words, “your money or your life” is illegal, so we’re all censors of something”. It obscures with semantic confusion, rather than examine the idea.

  4. Stewart Dinnage

    I’m glad you’ve considered your post likening criticism of the iPad to the luddite movement by broadening the analogy and accepting that we might all be a little guilty of bias in what we term progress. Personally I found the initial link (when applied only to those that decry the closed nature of the iPad) a weak and disappointing one, especially coming from one who writes such interesting comments on technology.

    I’m fairly sure that both you and Cory are smarter and better versed in technological matters than I. That said I’m happy to give my take on the iPad.

    For me it is an extension of the norms well established in the mobile (so called smart) phone segment i.e. closed, proprietary, designed to be replaced in a very short time span and with an eye firmly on vendor lockin. As devices with these norms get larger in size and attempt to gain market share (or even tempt new categories of users) if this is your idea of progress; then I am not progressive.

    Which is pretty far from protesting at the point of sale, or smashing the devices I think you’ll agree.

  5. Gerard Leun

    “When it comes to regress we are all Luddites.”

    “Regress is the Luddite’s Progress.”

    “Dear Apple, Please let us regress in peace.”

  6. Gerard Leun

    Not to mention:

    “At General NoTechnic Regress is Our Most Important Product.”

  7. ragesoss

    Sure, why wouldn’t people who want to change the world for the better embrace technologies they see as supporting and embodying their values while rejecting technologies they see as hindering or working against their values?

    It’s only those with a naive view of the history of technology and the nature of technological development who think of progress as a 1-dimensional process, where everything is either progress or regress. Technology is always going in all kinds of different directions, so of course activists who care about technology should push for some kinds of new technology and against other kinds.

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