Smashing chat… or how to be a Luddite

Last week I was invited to join the Ned Ludd Raoddio Hour for an interview about the new book. You can listen to it above, or via the podcast page here.

Ned Ludd is the legendary figure who, having smashed two industrial knitting machines in protest at their replacement of human craft, gave his name to the Luddite movement.

Luddism is now a pejorative label, aimed at someone who appears to be backwards in their attitudes to modern technologies. But the real Luddites were not so much anti-machine as pro-people. What they protested about – and breaking machines was – as sailors did when they ‘struck’ the sails of ships when facing such grim exploitation by princes and merchants – a means of getting right into the eye of those looking to abuse their labour.

With the rise of AI threatening so many jobs – and risking so many other jobs becoming poorer quality and with less autonomy – there are plenty who think that Luddism has a lot to offer. Not smashing up machinary, or going back to the dark ages, but being proactive in being pro-people.

Nick Hilton, who presents the Ned Ludd Radio Hour, is one such person – and was profiled in a piece the other week in The Guardian.

“But, in its purer historical sense, the term refers to people who are anxious about the interplay of technology and labour markets. And in that sense I would definitely describe myself as one.”

Nick Hilton – The Ned Ludd Radio Hour

As I argue in the book, the anxiety about this interplay is increasing – partly as machines are given language and become more human, but also in great part as humans’ place in a highly techno-capitalist world becomes more mechanistic and our role in work is reduced to cogs in a vast machine… or datapoints in an all-encompassing algorithm.

Just as with the weavers, our response should not be about becoming anti-AI. That would be absurd in a world where AI has drilled already into so many parts of our lives. It is about having to become much more reflective about our technology use and much more active in our decisions about where we set our technology boundaries.

That active reflection will require, I want to argue, us to re-form some of the mid-level community structures that have been atomised, partly as a result of technology’s amplification of individualism.

Back in the 60s we had the counterculture, one that urged people to turn on, tune in and drop out. Now we need an encounterculture, where we turn off, tune out from the algorithm, and drop in to meet one another in person.

If that makes me a Luddite, I take that.

Pre-order the book here.


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