Modern Day Luddites
The original Luddites
The full story of Luddism and the picture of who the original Luddites were remain sketchy, as they kept secret their activities, and autobiographical accounts of their experiences don’t exist (Domning and Englander, 1988; Stevenson, 1979). What is known is that the original Luddites were male and mostly members of the working class as knitters, croppers and weavers (Liversidge, 1972). John Stevenson describes, “It appears that the Luddite gangs represented a cross-section of the local population, heavily dominated by the particular trade involved, but with participants drawn from other workmen in the locality” (1979, p. 161). Some of the middle classes suspected that the organizers of the Luddite movement belonged to a higher social order than the working class (Liversidge, 1972).
The social conditions in which the Luddites worked and lived were dreadful. More than half the nation lived a rural life, and the main industries were textiles, hosiery and lace (Liversidge, 1972). England was dependent upon foreign trade, which was precarious, as it was at war with France. Douglas Liversidge (1972) describes the effects of the war: “The result was chaos and stress. Poverty and hunger now haunted many homes” (p. 23). Unemployment was high, wages were minimal and were being cut by as much as 50 percent, work shifts were long, and the cost of living was increasing. Women and children who worked in factories were grossly abused. Many manufacturers exploited their workers by cheating them out of their earnings in a number of ways – paying them whatever they felt like, paying them with store credit and overpricing merchandise, or paying with goods instead of money, a practice known as “truck” (Liversidge, 1972; Stevenson, 1979) Laws to protect the poor from the rich were either ignored or non-existent (Liversidge, 1972).
Luddism affected three groups in different areas in England. Knitters, or stockingers, in the Midlands – Nottingham, Derby and Leicester – were the first to revolt (Stevenson, 1979). A new application of wide frames led to the production of cheap, “cut-up” stockings, reducing and nearly eliminating the need for skilled laborers and high-quality merchandise. This upset the Luddites, as did the increasingly expensive costs of renting frames and the prevalent practice of hiring unapprenticed workers, or “colts,” in the place of skilled workers (Liversidge, 1972; Stevenson, 1979). Led by men wielding hammers, axes and muskets and with blackened faces, the Luddites destroyed machines, first under the guise of darkness, but later in daylight. Liversidge describes their selectivity, “The attack was, therefore, on machines owned by hosiers who perpetrated the evils of which framework knitters complained. The Luddites were well informed, knowing which frames had to be broken and which spared” (Liversidge, 1972, p. 38).
Subsequently, Yorkshire croppers involved in wool production rebelled. In the midst of unemployment and high prices, the croppers attacked shearing-frames and gig mills, which threatened to destroy their livelihoods because new uses of these machines diminished the number of total workers and skilled laborers needed (Domning and Englander, 1988; Stevenson, 1979). The croppers’ methods of revolt involved threatening anyone using shearing-frames, setting mills and large factories on fire, and raiding for arms, bullets and money.
Luddism spread within a year’s time to weavers in the cotton industry in Lancashire. In the winter of 1811-1812 anonymous letters began to threaten attacks on power and steam looms. The Luddites attacked loom factories, broke looms and destroyed finish work. They attempted to burn down the warehouse of William Radcliffe, inventor of the power loom (Stevenson, 1979).
Other tactics the three groups used invariably included inciting riots and collecting money for the unemployed men. To deter local magistrates and others from interfering, they maimed cattle and set fire to hay stacks (Liversidge, 1972). Most of the Luddite bands were organized and systematic, almost militaristic, in carrying out their attacks, with each member knowing and carrying out his specific duty. They were secretive and operated underground, known to each other by number, not by name (Liversidge, 1972; Stevenson, 1979).
Most of the machines against which the Luddites protested – wide frames, gig mills, and power looms – were not new. “Protest therefore stemmed from the application of these new technologies, not their invention,” Adrian Randall says (1995, p. 62). For the most part they only destroyed the specific type of machine they were targeting and didn’t harm or steal from anyone in the process. However, a handful of assassinations by Luddites are recorded (Liversidge, 1972; Stevenson, 1979). A criminal element only became involved in the later stages (Stevenson, 1979). The value of the equipment and property destroyed was immense (Liversidge, 1972). During the most active phase of the attacks during March 1811 and February 1812, it is estimated that 1,000 frames were destroyed during approximately 100 attacks (Stevenson, 1979).
Multiple factors motivated the Luddites. They rebelled against mistreatment, the refusal of government to help them, food shortages, unemployment, wage cuts, price increases and the applications of machines that decreased the quality of goods produced, diluted the skilled labor force and challenged workers’ autonomy – all a threat to living standards (Randall, 1995; Liversidge, 1972; Stevenson, 1979). Disgruntled and desperate, they acted out of fear. To them the new applications of the machines threatened not just their livelihoods, but also their existence and that of their families (Liversidge, 1972). Liversidge says some of the Luddites may have been paid to carry out attacks (1972).
The Luddites saw violence as a way to put pressure on their employers (Stevenson, 1979). They wanted to restore decent working conditions, and therefore, improve their lives. They hoped and believed their violent protests would effect change, as more civil efforts proved futile. The fact some letters showed a return address of Sherwood Forest suggests the Luddites saw themselves as Robin Hoods of a sort, righting wrongs (Liversidge, 1972). Successes were few, however. Eventually their uprisings were quelled and many were imprisoned or hung (Liversidge, 1972).
The neo-Luddites are a diverse group that includes writers, academics, students, families, Amish, Mennonites, Quakers (Kanaley, 1996), environmentalists, “fallen-away yuppies,” “ageing flower children” and “young idealists seeking a technology-free environment” (Dunne, 1996). Jonathan Gaw says that neo-Luddites tend to be members of the middle class (1996). A 1996 article in The Economist labels most of them as greens (Cranks, 1996). According to Kirkpatrick Sale, “This neo-Luddism . . . can be seen to span a considerable spectrum – ranging from narrow single-issue concerns to broad philosophical analyses, from aversion to resistance to sabotage with much diversity in between (Sale, 1995, p. 241). Some neo-Luddites are victims of “technological assaults,” who have formed networks such as the Asbestos Victims of America, Citizens Against Pesticide Misuse and the National Association of Amotic Veterans (Sale, 1995, p. 241). Others are not victims, but concerned citizens and members of groups that have fought against toxic wastes, biotechnology, incineration, pesticides, clear-cut logging, automobiles, animal testing and industrial chemicals (Sale, 1995). People resisting “environmental onslaughts” through their activity in environmental sabotage, or ecotage, comprise another segment. They include the EarthFirst! group and its more radical affiliate, Earth Liberation Front (Sale, 1995, p. 250). Finally, neo-Luddites include “a diverse set of social critics, activists and intellectuals for the most part, who accept the neo-Luddite label without demur and are consciously working to adapt certain of the Luddite fundamentals to contemporary politics” (Sale, 1995, p. 254).
Neo-Luddites use technologies despite viewing them as the enemy. Some even use e-mail, fax machines, the World Wide Web and airplanes to disseminate neo-Luddite propaganda (Sale, 1995). For example, Sale doesn’t own a computer, uses a phone when he has to and sometimes uses a car. Sale describes neo-Luddites’ use of technologies as “a contradiction and a compromise, however, that sits easily with no one and is justified only in the name of the urgency of the cause and the need to spread its message as wide as possible” (1995, p. 256).
The neo-Luddite group has some organization, as evident by three significant assemblies. One was the Second Luddite Congress, the first allegedly being held in 1812 in England. It took place on April 13-15, 1996 at a Quaker meeting hall in Barnesville, Ohio (Kanaley, 1996). Four hundred delegates attended. The Center for Plain Living, a spiritually-based group that promotes alternatives to a technology-based culture, sponsored the meeting, from which cameras, laptop computers and tape recorders were banned. Attendees were encouraged to travel by the least technological means possible (Kanaley, 1996). The second gathering was a private meeting of the influential neo-Luddites in April of 1997 to “discuss strategies and tactics that might lend more support to critics of technology” (Zachary, 1997, ¶ 4). Most recently, on February 24, 2001, a group called the International Forum on Globalization held a “Teach-In on Technology and Globalization” at Hunter College in New York city (Bailey, 2001). The purpose was to bring together technology critics and opponents of globalization and free trade. Fourteen hundred people attended, most of whom were over 45 years old. Speakers included Kirkpatrick Sale and Stephanie Mills (Bailey, 2001).
The neo-Luddite movement achieved momentum in the early 1990s. Since, the movement’s leaders have written numerous books and articles in alternative magazines on their philosophies, become lecturers (The Luddites’, 1996) and campus speakers (Pemberton, 1997). Over the years neo-Luddism has steadily attracted followers (Pemberton, 1997).
The two individuals who are labeled as the movement’s founders are Chellis Glendinning and Kirkpatrick Sale (The Luddites’, 1996). Chellis Glendinning laid out a manifesto for neo-Luddism in 1990 called “Notes Toward a Neo-Luddite Manifesto,” in which she outlined the movement’s goals: dismantling nuclear, chemical, computer, electromagnetic and genetic-engineering technologies” (Cranks, 1996, p. 87). She is a psychologist and author whose writings address the ecological and human costs of technological progress and the rewards of a renewed relationship to the natural world. She lives in the village of Chimayó, New Mexico in a solar-powered adobe hut (Cranks, 1996). Her works include When Technology Wounds, I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization and Off the Map (Writer’s Bio, n.d.).
Kirkpatrick Sale, 63, a prominent spokesperson for neo-Luddism, has been known to give anti-technology demonstrations dressed as a 19th-century English laborer, during which he smashes to bits a computer with a sledgehammer (Langton, 1996). He proudly calls himself a neo-Luddite in his book Rebels Against the Future: The Luddites and Their War on the Industrial Revolution. He is a nonfiction writer, journalist, editor and environmental activist. Sale has published several books including Human Scale and The Green Revolution (Kirkpatrick, n.d.).
Other prominent neo-Luddites include Wendell Berry, Stephanie Mills, Theodore Roszak and Scott Savage. Wendell Berry is a 67-year-old conservationist, farmer, essayist, novelist, English professor and poet. He lives on a farm in Henry Country, Kentucky (Wendell, n.d.). Berry is known among neo-Luddites for his tool-buying rules: “Is the new one cheaper than what it replaces? Is it small-scale? Does it work better? Does it use less energy? Can it be repaired and maintained by a person of ordinary intelligence?” (Cranks, 1996, p. 87).
Stephanie Mills is a writer and ecologist, living in rural northern Michigan, who has written and spoken on ecology and social change for more than 25 years. Her books include In Praise of Nature, Whatever Happened to Ecology? and In Service of the World: Restoring and Reinhabiting Damaged Land (Zachary, 1997). Mills purports that new technologies should be presumed guilty until proven innocent (Bailey, 2001).
Theodore Roszak is a professor of History and Chairman of General Studies at California State University. He is the author of several books including The Making of a Counter Culture and The Cult of Information, in which he differentiates between the use and abuse of computers (Zachary, 1997). He believes they undermine the human capacity for critical thinking (Roszak, 1994).
Scott Savage, a 41-year-old Quaker, is Director of the Center for Plain Living and organizer of the Second Luddite Congress. He publishes Plain magazine, “a bible for those attempting to turn away from modern technology and reconstruct a simpler life” (Langton, 1996, p. 29). In 1996, Plain had more than 5,000 subscribers (Cranks, 1996). Savage and his wife, Mary Savage, are former librarians and graduates of Kent State University who, in the early 1990s, decided to live a simpler life. They have eliminated television, radio, recorded music, newspapers, magazines, cars and electricity from their lives. They now live in rural Ohio’s Amish heartland (Langton, 1996).
Neo-Luddites share similar attitudes toward technology (Sale, 1995), however, diversity among their views exists. G. Pascal Zachary describes neo-Luddites as “a fractious bunch” who approach the subject of technology from all angles. He says, “It can be hard to find agreement on something even so basic as a working definition of what makes for a good or bad technology” (1997, ¶ 5).
Neo-Luddites oppose new technologies’ ubiquity (Brosnan, 1998). They believe technology is the enemy and has consequences; it “isn’t neutral.” It’s anti-nature and sometimes “positively detrimental.” (Bailey, 2001; Sale, 1999, ¶ 5). They cite toxic pollution and global warming as examples of technology-caused destruction (Sipchen, 1992). They believe that complicated technologies are unnecessary because simple, conventional tools are frequently superior. For instance, organic farming is superior to chemically aided agriculture (Winner, 1997).
They believe that new technologies feed industrialism, which is the overarching problem. They oppose anthropocentrism, which they see as the ruling principle of industrialism; globalism, industrialism’s guiding strategy; and industrial capitalism, its enterprise. They feel that the pursuit of profit and efficiency guide technical change rather than social justice, ecological harmony and personal dignity (Winner, 1997).
Neo-Luddites argue that our technology-driven world is spinning out of control. They say it isn’t conducive to a well-balanced life (Winner, 1997), and it puts people out of jobs when it’s introduced (Kelly, 1995). They say that new technologies remove people’s autonomy, forcing them to change what they do and how they do it (Bailey, 2001). Sale says, “Since technology is, by its very essence, artificial, . . . it tends to distance humans from their environment and set them in opposition to it. And the larger and more powerful it becomes, the greater is that distance and opposition (1999, ¶ 20).
Technology is a threat to humanity (Winner, 1997), to the natural world and industrial civilization (Sale, 1999). Bill Joy, one of the founders of Sun MicroSystems, fears robotics, genetic engineering and nanotechnology will destroy humanity in our lifetime (2000). Sale says that technology has the power to overwhelm and eliminate the natural world (1999). He also opines, “The industrial civilization so well served by its potent technologies cannot last, and will not last; its collapse is certain within not more than a few decades (Sale, 1999, ¶ 21).
One neo-Luddite vision for the future is “mandatory, small-scale, economically self-sufficient autarkies inspired by traditional and indigenous cultures” in place of a globally integrated economy with high technology at its core (Bailey, 2001, ¶ 5; Zachary, 1997). Another is a society that accepts new technologies because they’re steered by the demands of local communities as opposed to capitalism and corporate desires (Zachary, 1997).
Neo-Luddites argue that the slowing or stopping the development and adoption of new technologies is the first step in halting globalization (Bailey, 2001), and doing so requires dissent and opposition (Sale, 1999). The new Luddites want people to wage “a philosophical and lifestyle war against computers and machines (Gaw, 1996, ¶ 4) and gain control over the machines in their lives (Zachary, 1997), using technology rather than letting technology use them (Bailey, 2001). When Sale spoke at the Second Luddite Congress, he called on the audience to “name the enemy, which is technology. Name him, understand him, fight him” (Kanaley, 1996, ¶ 4). Sale encourages people to scrutinize new technologies for possible harm, and reject them, if necessary (Kelly, 1995). He says, “I ask that there be some kind of power of the citizenry to raise questions about, assess, and determine whether or not they want the technologies that are before them (Kelly, 1995).
Other ideas for action were proposed at the 2001 “Teach-In on Technology.” They include: organizing to stall all international negotiations over free-trade agreements; relinquishing biotech, nanotech and robotics as too dangerous to use; globally banning human reproductive cloning and gene manipulation; and banning the release of genetically modified organisms into the environment. The neo-Luddites want countries to ban biotechnology and other suspect technologies, and incorporate similar bans into international treaties (Bailey, 2001).
Neo-Luddites believe that society has the power to change the current state of affairs, but they are realistic in their expectations. Sale says that dissent and opposition of any degree will draw attention to the sources of that opposition, “so that somewhere in the collective memory of the society the essential truths are kept alive and the slow waves of erosion kept in motion (1999, ¶ 28). An article in The Economist explains, “The more down-to-earth neo-Luddites have few illusions that their views will prevail. If pressed, they accept that their alternative lives depend in key ways on the existence of a concrete-pouring, computer-hacking, machine-guzzling majority” (Cranks, 1996).
Theodore (“Ted”) Kaczynski, or the Unabomber, may have been the original neo-Luddite (Pemberton, 1997; The Luddites’, 1996). Like neo-Luddism’s leaders, Kaczynski is well-educated, receiving a Ph.D. in mathematics, and highly intelligent, earning a score of 167 on an IQ test in the fifth grade (Chase, 2000) and beginning college at Harvard at age 16. Many of his views are in concert with those of neo-Luddites. Kaczynski argues that technology destroys local communities and nature, creates a society averse to human potential, suppresses individual freedom, ignores human needs, forces modification of human behavior and threatens humanity’s survival. He says that further development of technology will undoubtedly subject humans to greater indignities, inflict greater damage on nature, lead to greater social upheaval, psychological and physical suffering (n.d., ¶ 1). Seemingly supportive of Kaczynski’s stand, Sale declares that it’s essential for the American public to understand and for politicians to address the first sentence of what’s become known as “The Manifesto” (Chase, 2000), which reads, “The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race” (Kaczynski, n.d., ¶ 1).
Like the neo-Luddites advocate, Kaczynski protested against what he perceived as ongoing injustices. Over 17 years he mailed 16 package bombs to scientists, academicians and others, killing three people and injuring 23 (Chase, 2000). In his manifesto, Kaczynski admits, “In order to get our message before the public with some chance of making a lasting impression, we’ve had to kill people” (n.d., p. 96).
Because of Kaczynski’s violent history and his recommendation for revolution (n.d., ¶ 4), neo-Luddites reject association with him (Gaw, 1996). The Manifesto of the Second Luddite Congress specifically rejects violence (Langton, 1996). Nevertheless, some neo-Luddites have acted violently themselves, and some have privately supported Kaczynski despite his killings (The Luddites’, 1996). Sale wrote in The New York Times that Kaczynski is rational and his principal beliefs are reasonable (Chase, 2000).
Neo-Luddites have less in common with the original Luddites than they do differences. Both groups take a stand against what they believe is wrong, although their methods greatly differ for the most part. Less so with neo-Luddites, each group resorts to violence as a form of protest. Both groups want to restore life to an earlier time and hope and believe their efforts will bring about change.
In terms of differences, neo-Luddites are better educated and of a higher class than the English Luddites. They live in drastically better societal and working conditions under labor law protections. They have much more free will and more cohesiveness to their group. They lecture about and document in writing their beliefs and dissatisfactions. They tend to work within a lawful context, affording them tolerance from society. They oppose a wider range of technologies. They believe technology threatens humanity as a whole whereas English Luddites believed certain technologies threatened their individual lives.
The neo-Luddite movement contains some Amish people, but the Amish as a whole are a distinct group of modern-day Luddites. These masters of techno-selectivity are pious people who stem from a 16th century reformation movement known today as the Anabaptist movement. Although they still practice Anabaptist beliefs, they are technically not Anabaptists. In 1536, a Catholic priest named Menno Simons joined the Anabaptist movement and, subsequently, Anabaptist groups were nicknamed “Mennonites” (The Amish Roots, ¶ 3). A Swiss bishop named Jakob Amman officially split from the Anabaptist movement in 1693 (Sharp, 1999). His followers were called Amish. Whereas all Amish are Mennonites, not all Mennonites are Amish (The Amish Roots, ¶ 3). The Amish and Mennonite churches share the same religious beliefs but differ in matters of dress, technology, language, worship forms and Bible interpretation (The Amish, ¶ 4).
The Amish and Mennonites emigrated to North America in the 1700 and 1800s. Today, they live in communities in 22 states. Eighty percent reside in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. Lancaster County in Pennsylvania is home to the largest number of Amish, Mennonites and Brethren, more than 75,000 (The Amish, ¶ 2; The Amish Roots, ¶ 7).
The Amish believe strongly in a sense of community, non-conformity to and separation from the rest of society, or the “English” as they call non-Amish people (Rheingold, 1999; Sharp, 1999). The Amish are self-sufficient. Women are homemakers, farmers, quilters and merchants, selling their homemade quilts and vegetables from their gardens at roadside stands. The men are farmers, laborers, carpenters, tradesmen and small businessmen (The Amish Roots, ¶ 12).
Permeating all aspects of Amish life -- personality, values, symbols, structure, ritual and possessions – is Gelassenheit, or the submission to the will of God, which requires relinquishing individuality and selfish thoughts. Gelassenheit is demonstrated in the Amish dress code, for example. All clothing is simple, modest and sewn at home. Women must always cover their hair and men must wear plain felt or straw hats when outside. All married Amish men have beards (The Amish, ¶ 9). To always uphold Gelassenheit and a separation from the outside world, each Amish community maintains a set of written or unwritten guidelines called Ordnung, which regulate all aspects of life, including clothing, child bearing, weekend activities, church activities, occupational activities and technology.
The Amish view technology as second to religion and cultural identity, and therefore strictly regulate the use of it within their communities. Howard Rheingold describes the Amish: “Far from knee-jerk technophobes, these are very adaptive techno-selectives who devise remarkable technologies that fit within their self-imposed limits” (1999, p. 3). They have an elaborate system for evaluating the technologies they adopt (Rheingold, 1999).
Typically, technology filters in when one of the bolder community members begins using or purchases something new. Others begin trying it, and reports circulate about the results. For example, Rheingold noted that in January of 1999 he saw a number of Amish using cell phones, no ruling on their use having been made yet (1999). Some technologies, such as the rubber band, take their place unnoticed. Others, which appear to threaten Gelassenheit or Amish traditions, are reviewed at a meeting where church leaders and members debate the potential ramifications of a technology should it be accepted. Everyone votes for or against the technology, but the bishops, priests and deacons have the final say. A technology may be outlawed simply by direct word of the bishop. A ruling can take decades, but once it’s decided, it’s reversed rarely (Rheingold, 1999).
Some of the questions bishops raise when evaluating a technology are: Does the technology build solidarity or draw us apart? What kind of people do we become when we use the technology? Does the technology uphold Gelassenheit? (Rheingold, 1999; Sharp, 1999). The Amish employ the following cultural regulators to determine whether or not they’ll allow a particular technology:
Technologies are banned that diminish the Amish’s separation from the world, distance one another and/or lead to self-exultation or an overmanipulative power (Rheingold, 1999; Sharp, 1999). Rheingold explains, “The Amish fear assimilating the far more dangerous ideas that ‘progress’ and new technologies are usually beneficial, that individuality is a precious value, that the goal of life is to ‘get ahead.’ This mindset, not specific technologies, is what the Amish most object to” (1999, p.6). For example, electricity is prohibited because it’s viewed as being a connection with the outside world and promoting the use of technologies such as televisions, which allow the “English values of sloth, luxury and vanity to infiltrate the household” (Sharp, ¶ 8). Automobiles aren’t allowed for fear they’ll promote separation of the community and/or competition and vanity amongst themselves, which counter Gelassenheit (Sharp, 1999).
Few links exist between the English Luddites and the Amish. Both groups are of the working class. Both take actions against technology out of fear, and both are selective. The original Luddites were selective in the technologies they opposed; the Amish are selective in technologies they adopt. However, unlike the Ludds of the early 1800s, the Amish aren’t disgruntled or violent. They live in immensely better social and working conditions. They isolate themselves from the rest of the world, are self-sufficient and have control over their lives. Their religious beliefs are the basis for their attitudes toward technology. Their motivations differ from the early Luddites. The original Luddites were motivated by horrendous working circumstances, the results of those conditions, grievances and a fear of losing their livelihoods and lives. Gelassenheit and a fear of growing apart from one another and the community motivate the Amish. The first Luddites protested after destructive changes occurred in their lives, seeking restoration of earlier conditions. The Amish strive to maintain the status quo and act to prevent what they deem harmful from occurring.
The final group of 21st century Luddites is technophobes, or technophobics. Technophobia, according to Weil and Rosen (1994), is “any negative psychological reaction to technology. This reaction can range from severe to mild” (p. 1). The symptoms are: avoiding technology when possible; limiting technology use to basic functions when avoidance isn’t possible; and experiencing reduced effectiveness and increased psychological discomfort when having to use technology (Weil and Rosen, 1994). Technophobes invariably are uncomfortable with many forms of technology, including videocassette recorders, fax machines, computers and voice mail systems (Weil and Rosen, 1994). Weil and Rosen emphasize, however, that technophobia is not an illness like agoraphobia or claustrophobia (Bollentin, 1995).
Two types of technophobes exist: cognitive and anxious. Cognitive technophobes, the more common, “hassle and frighten themselves by playing out intense, negative dialogues in their heads, saying things like ‘if I push the wrong button, the machine will break;’ ‘I’m going to get an electric shock;’ ‘I can never figure this out; or ‘I’m stupid, and everybody knows this but me’” (Bollentin, 1995, p. 2). Anxious technophobes experience traditional anxiety symptoms such as a quickened heart rate, sweaty palms, headache, nausea and/or stomach discomfort (Bollentin, 1995).
More than half of all Americans are technophobes (Weil and Rosen, 1994). This group is comprised of men, women and children of all ages, education levels and professions.
Debate exists over whether technophobia is gender-based, and studies exist both proving and disproving the fact. A study by Stimson and Stimson (1997) shows that technophobia is not gender-based whereas a study by the American Association of American Women shows that it is (Gender Gaps, 1999). Mark Brosnan concludes, “The tendency within the research, on the whole, has been to identify sex differences in computer anxiety, women reporting higher levels of anxiety than their male counterparts (1998, p. 22) and less positive attitudes towards computers than males” (p. 28).
People of all ages have real anxieties about using technology (Brosnan, 1998). Weil and Rosen have found that there are children and young people who are technophobic (1995). Brosnan notes that although expecting levels of technophobia to decrease in younger children, his research into 5-year-olds showed half were anxious about and didn’t want to use computers at all (1998). A Weil and Rosen study (1995, Summer) suggests that technophobia may be a more serious problem for adults than teenagers. Seniors also show technophobic tendencies, but the total number of them is decreasing (Ross, 2001). In January 2001, seniors comprised less than 10 percent of the total Internet population, but were the second fastest-growing group online, teens being the first (Ross, 2001). Web traffic in the 55-and-over age range surged from 8.7 million in October of 1999 to 11.9 million in October of 2000. Female seniors were largely responsible for the hike, raising their total Web use to a level equal to their male counterparts (Ross, 2001).
Technophobes are found in all professions. Some specifically identified positions filled with technophobes include educators, employers and businesspeople (Bollentin, 1995). Bob Lewis (2000) asserts that employees aren’t as technophobic as the executives for which they work. He says, “The biggest change resistors reside in the executive suite. In general, they have the biggest stake in the status quo, have the least to gain, and have the most to lose when a company changes” (p. 90). A five-year study conducted between 1995 and 1999 showed an increase in the use of technology in the workplace and at home (Weil and Rosen, 1999). However, despite the increased use, “rather than being excited and more accepting of new technology, people in the business world appear to be more hesitant” (Weil and Rosen, 1999, Conclusion section, ¶ 1). Weil and Rosen state that their work, as of 1994, showed that more than half of all psychologists are technophobic (1994). About one-third of American university students proved to be technophobic in a 1995 study (Weil and Rosen).
Technophobes share psychological and mental characteristics, too. One of the universal aspects of technophobia is people believing they’re the only ones feeling and behaving the way they do around technology and hiding it because they believe they’ll appear stupid, they’ll be embarrassed and/or people will think less of them. Many are afraid of or completely intimidated by technology (Bollentin, 1995). Negative attitudes towards computers is another component of technophobia (Brosnan, 1998). Pomerantz finds that “some of the objections to technology are based on myth, ignorance, or misunderstanding” (1998, p. 17).
Unpleasant introductions to technology are a common social factor found among technophobes. Many technophobes were introduced to technology by people such as parents, teachers and colleagues, who themselves weren’t comfortable with technology (Weil and Rosen, 1994). During these rough early experiences, the discomfort was passed on to the learner, thus planting a technophobic seed. In some cases, technophobia stems from a “haphazard, confusing or offhanded” introduction (Weil and Rosen, 1994, p. 1). Also instigating or aggravating technophobic tendencies is when learners are expected to adapt and develop a competence with a new technology in a short time span (Weil and Rosen, 1994).
The historic Luddites and technophobes have little in common other than fear-based motivation. Technophobes are afraid of embarrassment or looking bad when they use technology, whereas the English Luddites feared for their jobs and their lives. Unlike the early Luddites, technophobes are of all ages, genders and professions. They work and live in much better environments. Technophobic Luddism is a state of mind, rather than a violent protest, although both target specific technologies. Technophobes oppose the technologies they fear; the first Luddites opposed the use of specific technologies that they believe worsened working conditions and life.
In their own individual ways, neo-Luddites, the Amish and technophobes carry on the anti-technology legacy of the original, 19th-century Luddites. It is important to note, however, that the early Luddites only opposed certain technologies and it was specific uses of those technologies to which they objected, as they caused unemployment and decreased wages. Today’s American Luddites – neo-Luddites, the Amish and technophobes – oppose a broader range of technologies, for reasons that, for the most part, differ from those of the historic Luddites. Comparison of today’s Luddites to the originals reveals that more differences than similarities exist. As such, one is surprised that the term “Luddite” has survived so strongly for nearly two centuries. Perhaps the embellished folklore of the original Luddites has breathed life into the word. The term’s impressive sustainability raises the question of whether or not aligning oneself or one’s cause with a historical group and/or event affords them more credence and strengthens their position. Because the three modern groups of Luddites are strongly rooted in today’s society, perhaps the term Luddite will remain alive for at least another century.
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