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Popularly, the word Luddite means someone who reflexively and thoughtlessly opposes broad categories of technology. But the original Luddites opposed a few specialized technologies for practical reasons. They were skilled textile artisans who were accustomed to working autonomously, making high-quality products, and earning good money. They saw that new machinery was destroying their trade and replacing it with the manufacture of low-quality textiles, by unskilled workers, for low wages, in oppressive factories, enabling a concentration of wealth in the hands of the factory owners.

Ironically, the actual Luddites had a more sophisticated understanding of the social effects of new technologies than modern technophiles who use the term to imply simple-mindedness. Although they failed to halt industrialization, the Luddites drew strong popular support, and they forced the ruling powers to make some economic concessions. Their example suggests that opposition to technology is effective when it is precisely focused and linked to concrete needs.


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Author: Ran Prieur