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Why are people rejecting technology? What dangers does technology pose? What are the solutions?
Neo-Luddites are part of a movement that promotes technological reform and advocates much more careful consideration of the possible consequences of adopting any technology. While they don’t entirely reject technology, they worry about the broad and varied dangers it poses.
Read on to learn why rejecting technology, and not embracing every new technology, might be a wise decision.
Technological Progress Has a Dark Side
We’re living in a time of unbridled technological progress. But is it truly progress? Or could we end up worse off in ways we haven’t considered? Neo-Luddites argue the latter—while not entirely rejecting technology, they claim that we need to take a step back and think before we unquestioningly embrace every new technology as necessary and inevitable.
“Luddite” is often used as a derogatory term for people who eschew some form of technology embraced by the mainstream. The implication is that such people are backward, ignorant, and stall progress. But over the last few decades, some have reclaimed the word, seeing themselves as part of a counter-cultural movement of conscientious objectors. These neo-Luddites believe many new technologies have the capacity to be dangerous or harmful to humanity, and we need to carefully consider what we invent and adopt.
In this article, we’ll delve into some of the concerns about technology’s effects and some proposed solutions to the problems, and we’ll explore the potential for violence in this movement, asking whether there’s cause for concern about a large-scale revolution.
Since the predominant narrative and attitude in the modern world is weighted heavily in favor of technological advancement, we’ll assume the benefits of technology are obvious and focus largely on the objections here.
Why Are People Rejecting Technology?
Like their historical predecessors, neo-Luddites don’t oppose all technology; instead, they promote technological reform and advocate much more careful consideration of the possible consequences of adopting any technology. And these consequences can be broad and varied.
The neo-Luddite movement began taking shape in the 1990s with the publication of Notes toward a Neo-Luddite Manifesto by psychologist and environmental activist Chellis Glendinning. This document outlines some of the principles of the movement, including:
- Technology is only good insofar as it benefits us, and is only bad insofar as it harms us.
- Technologies that encourage a mechanistic, hyper-rational, and materialistic worldview are destructive to people and communities.
- All technologies can be used as political tools that serve to uphold oppressive structures and systems of exploitation.
- Too much emphasis on our personal enjoyment of technologies without consideration of the larger, long-term effects they have on the world is dangerous and shortsighted.
What Should Be Done About These Problems?
So what can we do to address these problems? Will neo-Luddites start smashing laptops, as their predecessors did with looms? Do we need to fear a violent uprising? The short answer is, probably not. But since neo-Luddism isn’t a single organized movement, there are a variety of proposed solutions. Let’s look at some of the different responses to these questions by neo-Luddites themselves.
Will There Be Violence?
Some of the concerns about violence from neo-Luddism stem from the fact that probably the most notorious neo-Luddite is Ted Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber. From 1978-1995, Kaczynski set off a series of bombs targeted at destroying what he saw as destructive technological development. His manifesto, written in 1995, stated that he foresaw a future in which humans and other living beings would be reduced to “cogs in a machine,” completely stripped of our autonomy.
But most neo-Luddites dismiss Kaczynski as simply a fringe radical, and they strictly oppose violence. The Pew Research Center surveyed hundreds of leaders in technology fields, asking them whether they believe we can expect violence from what they called “refuseniks”—people who oppose new technologies. Although a majority (58%) said yes, most believed it would not be on a large enough scale to worry about. And some respondents pointed out that it’s important that we do have dissenting voices on this issue.
Sale says the neo-Luddite movement is rooted mostly in academia (it should be noted that Ted Kaczynski was an academic), and that it’s largely an intellectual resistance. He says neo-Luddites won’t be “taking up the sledge hammer and the torch” just yet, but will use the “book and lecture” instead.
So, What Do Neo-Luddites Suggest?
When addressing solutions to the problem of unbridled technological development, the common thread among neo-Luddite responses is that we need to stop adopting new technologies mindlessly, and start questioning their potential consequences more deliberately.
Notes Toward a Neo-Luddite Manifesto was originally written by Glendinning in 1990, so there are many technologies we’ve adopted en masse since (most notably, the internet). But the manifesto proposed entirely eliminating the following technologies, which were current at the time:
- All nuclear, chemical, and electromagnetic technologies, because they have dangerous and toxic effects on the environment and humans.
- Genetic engineering technologies, because we can’t predict the risk this kind of alteration of nature might pose.
- Computer technology, for not only the environmental effects, but because it amplifies power structures and distances people from nature.
- Television, because it’s used to psychologically manipulate and control people (presumably the internet would go in this category too, although with the destruction of computers that would necessarily also be eliminated).
More recently, in a conversation with Glendinning and Sale, Stephanie Mills suggested that all technology should be judged with a moral compass that considers all its possible material and spiritual impact. Before rejecting or embracing new technology, some factors she would consider are whether the technology:
- Is made from renewable and biodegradable materials
- Improves the user’s senses and strength in some way
- Has minimal disruptive impact on society and relationships
- Adds beauty to the world
In this same conversation, Sale pointed out that for some 2 million years, humans needed nothing but fire and simple hand tools to survive. He said we should remind ourselves that the vast majority of technologies are not necessary, and we should individually reject those that harm ourselves and the planet. And he says we should feel free to do that without guilt or social ostracization.
Some neo-Luddites prefer to call themselves “technoskeptics.” An organization called The Technoskeptic engages in critical conversation around technology and its challenges. They say they don’t hate or entirely reject technology, but that they promote a thoughtful approach to deciding what technologies to adopt by taking a broader historical perspective and understanding the consequences of “progress.”
A common objection to rejecting technology is the assertion that we must be “connected” to be informed and therefore knowledgeable and successful in life. But writer and activist Wendell Berry, who declared in 1988 that he would never buy a computer, and has remained true to his word, says he’s much more connected to the world than those behind a computer screen are. He says he studies the fields and forests and rivers for his knowledge, and his life is motivated by love. Berry urges us to remember that “the only motive that’s worth anything is love, and…you can’t make a robot that will work from love.”
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