Learning From The Past

           Have we as a society reached a point where we are now too lazy to flip a light switch, adjust a thermostat, or lock a door? The recent welcoming of automation into our homes presents the question of whether or not these technological advancements are truly necessary, oreven valuable, for our society. Indeed the question of whether or not this new technology should be applauded is a question that has been asked of countless major technological advances throughout our history.

            As such the first two entries in the history section of this blog will focus not on the rather brief history of this fledgling industry, but on the history of those who argued both for and against technological change, and the rationale behind their respective arguments. In a bid to help us uncover whether or not smart homes offer us real value without hidden drawbacks, and in order to construct our own informed decisions on the matter,we must first consider the reasoning of those who both resisted technological change and those who ushered it in before us.

            While it may seem like a contradiction, it is never wise to blindly presume all advancements or changes truly take us forward, not backward. To explain the notion that technological advancements can take us backwards we must first look in that direction; backwards. To the contention of increased automation that has persisted throughout our history.

            The Luddite movement is one that is both well documented and closely tied to the topic of this blog piece. In fact, the movement is so linked to this topic that today the word Luddite has become a moniker for those who oppose technology. The movement was seen initially in 1811 in response to advancements (primarily machines) brought about by the industrial revolution as well as financial difficulties following the Napoleonic war. (Who were the Luddites and what did they want?, N.D)The Luddites are of particular relevance as they formed in response to two effects of technological advancement that remain two of the major driving forces of contention of change to this day; unemployment and wage reductions.The adoption of automation effectively eliminated the need for skilled workers in various trades, such as the croppers of West Riding, and as such these workers soon found their once highly touted skills devalued, and their wages drastically reduced. (The Drama and Tragedy of West Riding Luddism, N.D)

           These same workers previously held a great degree of authority over their working life, and “shaped their work around their lives, rather than their lives around their work.”(Sale, 1995) The advent of various technologies resulted in their skills becoming redundant while also allowing for the introduction of a new factory model, which we are told “meant regimented and unprecedented work hours, horrific pollution, dangerous working conditions, unsanitary living space with virulent diseases, early death, a starvation diet and a total lack of freedom.”(Sale, 1995) Not exactly the most pleasant effects of technological evolution for society as a whole. Today some of these conditions sound all too familiar, even in the western world. Is it bold then, for us to deduce that past technological changes can be directly linked to the increasingly long work weeks and the emphasis on labour so prevalent in the capitalist model today? Whether this is seen as progress or not is very different depending on whom you ask.

            Neo-Luddism is a more recent movement in the opposition of technological change. The manifesto of the second Luddite Congress branded Neo-Luddism as “a leaderless movement of passive resistance to consumerism and the increasingly bizarre and frightening technologies of the Computer Age.” (Sale, 1997) Neo-Luddites are not entirely opposed to technology, but are apprehensive about the ability of any new technology to solve current problems without creating more, potentially hazardous problems. This is not confined to the major changes similar to those seen in the industrial revolution but changes in all areas of life. John Philip Sousa for example regarded the introduction of the phonograph with suspicion and predicted: “a marked deterioration in American music and musical taste”. (Graham, 1999) Anyone who has overheard a Nikki Minaj or Justin Bieber song can certainly attest to the validity of that predicition.

           In 1953, German philosopher, and Neo-Luddite,Martin Heidegger asserted that modern technology had already taken centre stage in society, and that we had now reached a point where all elements of the natural world; land, plants, animals, even people were viewed as mere resources, losing all value but that which can be exploited. Heidegger uses the Rhine river as an example of a previously unadulterated natural beauty that technology had reduced to nothing more than a power source, a resource. (Wheeler, 2013) As before, with the luddite movement, there is a relationship between technological change and capitalist society today, that advances in technology have altered our very perception of the world to fit this view of nature as a source of wealth. Nothing more than resources to be drained until the profits dries up, only to be mercilessly replaced by the next resource in the queue. A rather pessimistic outlook then is that technology may be the root cause of what may ultimately be a self-destructive society.

           That is not to say Smart Homes are guaranteed to turn our world into a scene out of the movie “2012” but should serve as a reminder to us to learn from our past. A brief look at the history of technology tells us no change should be adopted and welcomed so blindly.


Dan Flynn



1) http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/14/opinion/krugman-sympathy-for-the-luddites.html?_r=0

2) What is a Luddite? & The Drama and Tragedy of West Riding Luddism: http://www.ludditelink.org.uk/history.php

3) Who were the Luddites and what did they want? http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/politics/g3/

4) The Luddites war on Industry –http://www.eco-action.org/dod/no6/luddites.htm

5) Wheeler, Michael, “Martin Heidegger”, TheStanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)



 6) Kirkpatrick, Sale Americas New Luddites, 1997


 7)Kirkpatrick, Sale Rebels Against the Future: The Luddites and Their War on the Industrial Revolution: Lessons for the Computer Age, Addison Wesley, Boston, Mass, 1995.

8) Graham, Gordon The Internet: a philosophical inquiry. Routledge.p. 9. 1999

9) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neo-Luddism


One comment

  1. Diana here – this is interesting stuff and well researched. Liked the introduction of placing your topic of interest within the larger argument of ‘technological change’ and the ethical conundrums this may throw up. Nicely done.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s