Thinking about the Luddites this week, what are the wide frames of today? which bits of the stack need a visit at midnight?
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Today on November Second in 1811 “Luddite” weavers & knitters destroyed machines in Nottingham, England which were a threat to their livelihoods.
Luddite: A word still sharp with edges. Spat even today at others demonstrating so called technophobic leanings. But the idea that luddites were opposed to all technology is a history written by the victors.
The Song ‘General Ludd’s Triumph’ opens with the declaration that Robin Hood was over in the public imagination, I’m a pirate so I’ll let Chumbawamba do their thing:
Chant no more your old rhymes about bold Robin Hood,Chumbawamba – The Triumph Of General Ludd
His feats I but little admire
I will sing the Achievements of General Ludd
Now the Hero of Nottinghamshire
Now I’m sure you know this, but Luddites were opposed only to technology ‘hurtful to Commonality’. ie. to the common good, rather than the narrow interests of the few. In midnight raids they entered the workshop and destroyed some machines whilst leaving others alone..
The guilty may fear, but no vengeance he aimsChumbawamba – The Triumph Of General Ludd – YouTube
At the honest man’s life or Estate
His wrath is entirely conﬁned to wide frames
And to those that old prices abate
These Engines of mischief were sentenced to die
By unanimous vote of the Trade
And Ludd who can all opposition defy
Was the grand Executioner made
So what are the wide frames of today? How do we bring being a sceptic about the dogma of technology as progress, whilst not denying the real benefits of other technologies. We are to insist that crucial decisions about which technologies are developed are made democratically, not just imposed by corporations and technocratic elites. And it means standing up for our own ideas of what progress really is.
Are there even wide frames?
In his essay Design Conflict Territories back in 2014 Tobias Revell wrote:
Google very, very gradually built a future around us. The point stands that the entities constructing and steering our futures, or what they often like to call the future – with all the baggage of powerlessness and inevitability that that wording brings – aren’t states, and they work on a completely different geopolitical strata: There is no town square for Google.Tobia Revell – Designed Conflict Territories
Clive Thompson writing on the Luddites in 2017 for Qz.com wrote that “The lesson you get from the end of the Luddites is: Do the people that are profiting off automation today want to participate in distributing their profits more widely around the population, or are they going to fight just as hard as they did back then?”
Indeed Co-founder of the new climate action movement Extinction Rebellion just today said ‘A hundred years of political sociology shows you can only change entrenched power through creating economic costs for the people who hold that entrenched power,’
I was extremely excited by the Google walk out yesterday. They stepped out and back into the town square. They’ve also been successfully made their employer to not bid for the Pentagon’s $10B cloud computing contract. Their demands are strong. Especially the last one. Appoint a employee representative to the board. And a future Labour government would introduce laws requiring businesses to reserve a third of board seats for workforce representative.
But for the rest of us what is there to smash? What parts of the stack – the technological and social entity that leans through time and touches us today – needs a visit at midnight? Because at midnight now, including me, most of our are sleeping with devices of black glass that host entities that are harmful to the commonality. And the same people that have stepped out into the town square are also the people building them.
The script above is the original script I wrote for the episode. It may differ from what ended up in audio due to time constraints.