Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Against the Machine

What does it mean to be Luddite in a digital world? By looking at Luddite expression from the time of King Ludd to the present day, Nicols Fox helps us find clarity. We are not the unhappy factory workers of the early Industrial Revolution, and most of us are not primitivists, living on islands, but we are engaged in a world in which technology has been used for profit, war, and power, and each of us must grapple with this.
Fox defines technology broadly, as the extension of human ability through tools, and places us on a continuum of ever increasing technological sophistication. We have choices as to what technology we will use, and that choice is our power. What I sense as her conclusion, in fact, is that a Luddite is someone who carefully chooses which technology to use, and chooses that which furthers human welfare and the well-being of the nonhuman world. When the machine controls us, when the machine destroys the nonhuman world, when it becomes a tool for oppression and the generation of wealth for the dominators, then it must be rejected.

On her way to this conclusion, she takes us along a historical path with a wonderfully detailed landscape: we see the enclosures and early factories of England, the pastoral world of the Romantics, the capitalist mythology of the mechanical marketplace, the arts and crafts movement, the 19th century American naturalists. Then we meander through the prison of clock time to the mechanical monsters that eat up hillsides and forests. All she is missing, really, is a visit to our contemporary digital media. This is what I see everyday, myself, as digital realities destroy our children's ability to see and socialize and know what is real.

For contemporary animists, the issues raised by technology have particular importance. We need to be conversant with Luddism, the impact of technology on the nonhuman world, and other related topics. This is the right book with which to begin.

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