Lentis/Neoluddism and Technophilia

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Illustration of Moore's Law taken from the Wikipedia page. Since 1950, The number of transistors in the same area has doubled every year.

How can we understand the extreme differences in human response to rapid pace of technological development?

Society has developed and adopted new technologies quicker than every before. Although many believe that Moore's Law is reaching the end of its validity,[1] it still illustrates how society has pushed technological innovation in recent years. Moore's Law is just one example of how quickly new technologies enter society. Developers constantly look for new products to push to consumers, and consumers demand the latest and greatest from these developers. Many large technology companies like Apple release new versions of their products annually and still see sales increase on new versions.[2] Reactions to rapid technological development fall on two ends of a spectrum. At one end, opposing adoption of new technologies, is the neo-Luddite ideology. On the other end are technophiles, who associate new technologies with inherent benefit for society.

Neo-Luddism[edit]

Definition[edit]

Neo-Luddism is a philosophy opposing many forms of modern technology. The name is based on the historically known British Luddites from 1811 to 1816. [3]Neo-Luddites resist modern technologies and demand a return of technologies to a primitive level. [4] According to Chellis Glendinning, a leading Neo-Luddite writer, “Neo-Luddites are 20th century citizens — activists, workers, neighbors, social critics, and scholars — who question the predominant modern worldview, which preaches that unbridled technology represents progress.”[5]

Defining Principles of Neo-Luddism[edit]

Neoloddism ideology overlaps and is confused with other ideologies such as anti-materialism, anarcho-primitivism, and dystopian futurology. [6]

In "Notes toward a Neo-Luddite Manifesto" (1990), Glendinning outlines what she considered to be major principles of neo-Luddism. The following major principles were identified: (1) Neo-Luddites are not anti-technology; rather, neo-Luddism is against technologies that are "destructive of human lives and communities." [5] (2) All technologies are political. And (3) The personal view of technology is dangerously limited. Society must look at the introduction of technologies beyond perspective of human use; technologies must be considered by their impact on other living beings, natural systems, and the environment. [5]

History[edit]

Who were the Luddites? The original Luddites were a group of 19th century British textile workers. Their livelihoods were threatened by new machines that mechanized the production process. They set out to destroy these machines to protect their way of life, and not for ideological motives. Through historical misinterpretation and popular culture, the term has evolved to describe anyone who is opposed to technological progress. It can often be derogatory, even though the original Luddites had no such qualms. This erroneous historiography has caused the common misconception that the Luddites were a violent anti-technology activist group. In reality, they were laborers fighting for their jobs.[7]

When modern critics of technological progress were organizing in the late 20th century, they looked to the historical, ideological image of the 19th century Luddites for inspiration and called themselves Neo-Luddites. Critics of technology abounded throughout the 20th century, but the Neo-Luddite movement gained some structure when Chellis Glendinning wrote the “Notes toward a Neo-Luddite Manifesto.” In her notes, Glendinning defines the principles of Neo-Luddism. She states that “Neo-Luddites are not anti-technology” but oppose all forms of technology that are harmful to the human race. She contends that most modern technologies are harmful. Neo-Luddites favor the dismantling of all harmful technologies and the search for technologies that can benefit society. This manifesto does not explicitly condone or condemn violence. It does, however, express the impetus to completely upset the modern technical world order.[5]

A Google Ngram search of "luddism" results in two distinct peaks. The first peak begins around 1800 and is representative of the original Luddites. The second peak begins to accelerate around 1950-1970, which coincides with the digital revolution where new technologies were emerging at a rapid pace. This is understood to be representative of neo-Luddism. "Neo-Luddism" as a formal term appears to be much less popular; however, as the second peak of Luddism increases, it is likely that the term “neo-Luddism” was created to describe this second wave of Luddist response to technological development.

Prominent Figures[edit]

An FBI reproduction of a bomb created by Kaczynski

Ted Kaczynski[edit]

Ted Kaczynski was a mathematics prodigy; he graduated from Harvard by the age of 20 and became an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkley in 1967 at just 25. He abruptly resigned in 1969 and became a recluse in Montana. He later performed a series of bombings targeting universities and airlines between 1978 and 1995 that killed three people and injured twenty-three more, giving him the moniker “Unabomber.” He targeted specific people developing technology to attract attention to his 35,000 word essay, “Industrial Society and Its Future,” colloquially known as “The Unabomber Manifesto,” which was published in the Washington Post in 1995. [8] In his writing, Kaczynski describes the adverse effects of “industrial-technological society.”

Although he never self-identfifies as a neo-Luddite, Kaczynski is heavily associated with neo-Luddism. This could be attributed to Kaczynski’s views being more extreme than the casual neo-Luddite’s. The first principle of neo-Luddism states opposition to destructive technology, not all technology. Conversely, Kaczynski’s essay suggests that all technology is destructive, stating “the system cannot be reformed in such a way as to reconcile freedom with technology.” Kaczynski’s manifesto also addresses his view of the technophile in society, stating that some are satisfied with industrial-technological society due to a “weak drive for power.” He compares them to slaves, content with their servitude to the machine that is society and highly susceptible to marketing of “shiny new toys,” like a new iPhone or Tesla in today’s world. Kaczynski was sentenced to life in prison for his bombings. [9]


How have other groups been influenced by Ted Kaczynski?

This type of violence persists today. The Mexican terrorist group Individuals Tended Toward Savagery claimed several shootings and bombings of prominent scientists and researchers in order to prevent the proliferation of a supposed nano-particle goo that has the potential to cause a global apocalypse. They were inspired by Ted Kaczynski.[10] These Neo-Luddites used murder to express their convictions. Neo-Luddism is a radical ideology. When it is acted upon, the results are often correspondingly extreme. In so doing, Neo-Luddites have seriously damaged society.

Technophilia[edit]

Definition[edit]

Before analyzing some cases of technophilia, we must discuss its definition. A technophile is defined as “one who has a love of or enthusiasm for technology, especially computers and high technology.” [8] Some might consider this to be a more conservative definition, as this term is typically associated with a obsession rather than enthusiasm. "Technophiles take most, or all, technologies in a positive manner, enthusiastically adopting new technology as a way to improve living conditions and social problems." [11]

History[edit]

The word’s origin can be traced to the 1960’s — a period in which the world saw an explosion of new technologies. The decade saw significant strides in space exploration, television, automobiles, music production equipment, and most importantly, computers. While many of these technologies were still very primitive compared to the present day, they were quite advanced for the time and drew a lot of attention.

Comparing and Contrasting Neo-Luddism and Technophilia[edit]

How can we understand ideological differences?[edit]

Investigation of neo-Luddism and technophilia prompts the question: "how can we understand such a drastic difference in human response to technological development?" Research supports that the extreme difference in the observed responses can often be traced to fundamental differences in pre-supposed beliefs. Viewpoint on issues such as the moral nature of technology are likely determining factors in whether a person identifies as a neo-Luddite or a technophile. There is also a fundamental difference in the way that the groups define progress. Neo-Luddites challenge "material acquisition as the key to human fulfillment and technological development as the key to social progress" [5], which are manifestations of technophilia.

The Relationship of Morality and Technology[edit]

A major presupposition underlying both neo-Luddism and technophilia is the view of where technologies fall on the moral spectrum. Is technology morally neutral? Inherently good? Inherently bad? A person's stance on the moral nature of technology is likely to play a large role in determining whether a person tends toward neo-Luddism or technophilia.

As mentioned previously in the "Principles of Neo-Luddism" section, neo-Luddite ideology contends that all technologies are political. Glendinning expands on this statement by stating, "technologies are not neutral tools that can be used for good or evil depending on who uses them. They are entities that have been consciously structured to reflect and serve specific powerful interests in specific historical situations."[5] Neo-Luddism agrees with the philosophical position of Lewis Mumford: "technology consists of more than machines". [5] Technologies cannot be separated from the techniques of operation and social organizations that make the technologies workable. [5]

How should society distinguish between "good" and "bad" technologies? Although neo-Luddites have a reputation for opposing all forms of technology, Glendinning contends that this is not the case. Technology is recognized as intrinsic to human creativity and culture. However, neo-Luddism also recognizes that certain forms of technologies have potential to be destructive of human lives and communities. Neo-Luddism is in favor of creating technologies that benefit life on earth, while dismantling destructive technologies. The logical question following the neo-Luddite claim against technological neutrality is "how does society make this distinction between "good" and "bad" technologies?

Glendinning clarifies how this distinction from a neo-Luddite ideological perspective by providing some examples of technological developments that are deemed acceptable for pursuit:

"community-based energy sources utilizing solar, wind, and water technologies — which are renewable and enhance both community relations and respect for nature; organic, biological technologies in agriculture, engineering, architecture, art, medicine, transportation, and defense — which derive directly from natural models and systems; conflict resolution technologies — which emphasize cooperation, understanding, and continuity of relationship; and decentralized social technologies — which encourage participation, responsibility, and empowerment" [5]

However, the paradox lies in the observation that many of the technologies that neo-Luddism promotes are enabled by the digital/computer technologies that Glendinning vehimently condemns.

The Relationship of Technology and Progress[edit]

While neo-luddites contend that society should be wary of technological advances, technophiles equate all technology with progress. Technophilia contends that all technology is inherently beneficial to society. Neo-luddites use the social use and benefit of technology to determine its morality (and thus whether or not it is considered "progress"). If a technology places power in the hands of the users and is democratic in nature, it is accepted by Neo-luddites. In their eyes, technology and decisions about its use should be decided by the masses. This prevents abuse of power by the developers of the technology. Technology can help people individually even if it is not seen as good for society, however. For example, multiple Neo-luddite organizations now have websites, despite them seeing the internet as undemocratic in nature.

Case Studies[edit]

Examples of Social Movements[edit]

Neo-Luddite Ideology in Environmentalism[edit]

Neo-Luddism (in the broadest sense) is a movement with no organizational structure; thus, any person ascribing to the general sentiment expressed in Glendinning’s writing could arguably classify as a Neo-Luddite. Although activist groups rarely associate directly with Neo-Luddism, their actions and ideologies often follow principles described by Glendinning. Neo-Luddism frequently manifests itself visibly in the form of environmentalism. "Earth First!", a radical environmentalist movement that supports civil disobedience to advance environmental causes, is one example.[9] "Earth First!" defines itself as a movement formed in 1979, "in response to an increasingly corporate, compromising and ineffective environmental community." [12]

Similarities exist between the ideological principles behind the "Earth First!" movement and the ideological principles of the Luddites. For instance, parallels can be drawn in how both "Earth First!" and the Luddites view man's relationship to nature. "Earth First!" is "guided by a philosophy of deep ecology." [12] They reject the "human-centered worldview of 'nature for people’s sake.'” Instead, "Earth First!" contends that life exists for its own sake and that "industrial civilization and its philosophy are anti-Earth..."[12] "Earth First!" champions a shift from an anthropocentric society to an eco-centric society[12]. Similarly, neo-Luddism challenges the view that "the human place in nature is one of ownership and supremacy" [13] The "Earth First!" focus on the earth can be understood as a variation of the Neo-Luddist focus on shifting away from a techno-centric society.

Not only are there ideological similarities, but the actions of civil disobedience taken by "Earth First!" to promote their beliefs are comparable to the Luddites. "We ["Earth First!"] believe in using all of the tools in the toolbox, from grassroots and legal organizing to civil disobedience and monkeywrenching. When the law won’t fix the problem, we put our bodies on the line to stop the destruction."[12]

Examples of Technologies[edit]

Biotechnology and Medical Devices[edit]

A juxtaposition of the development process of medical devices/biotechnologies and digital/computer technologies is useful for illustrating the interplay of neo-Luddist and technophilic ideologies as they relate to the integration of new technologies into society.

In the United States, the development of medical devices and biotechnologies is heavily regulated by agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)- a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS). In fact, perhaps one of the greatest challenges to the development of medical devices and biotechnologies is the regulatory hurdles and documented approval that new technologies must obtain before being allowed to be introduced into society for users. The regulated development of medical devices and biotechnologies reflects neo-Luddite principles and provides a helpful way to consider how society approaches new technologies differently when human risk is determined to be involved.

There seems to be a general understanding that we should be careful in how we allow technology to change our bodies; however, this sentiment does not extend equally over all technologies. It is not hard to understand how medical devices and biotechnologies have potential to alter our bodies in undesirable ways. For this reason, the introduction of biotechnologies is strictly regulated to avoid undesirable consequences. But, what if it were shown that digital and computer technologies equally change humanity? From a neo-Luddist ideological viewpoint, digital/computer technologies do in fact alter humanity. For example, research suggests that technologies such as smartphones change human brain function [14]. Numerous research studies have been published that demonstrate how digital/computer technologies indirectly harm human health, such as a study that correlates television to obesity [15] and increasing evidence that social media is partially responsible for increased suicide rates. [16] These are just a few examples of the countless publications that address how digital/computer technologies have proven to have social consequences that are harmful to human health.

Neo-Luddist ideology contends that technophiles are ignorant to the harmful implications of digital/computer technologies and the threat that devices such as smartphones pose to humans. As evidenced by the existence of the FDA and the stringent regulations imposed on new technologies that are directly influencing the body, people seem to agree that technologies that have potential to alter humanity should be carefully evaluated before integrating into society. The discrepancy between the regulatory framework that exists for medical technologies and the lack of equally strict guidelines for technological development in other areas such as computer technologies stems from a different perspective on what technologies should be considered as having the potential to change humans. Neo-Luddism argues that just because the negative effects of digital/computer technologies on humans are perhaps less visible and more difficult to quantify, these risks exist nonetheless. Therefore, stringent evaluation of the consequences of new technologies should not be reserved only for medical technologies.

Genetic Engineering[edit]

One specific case is genetic engineering. Genetic engineering has taken on many forms. Some of the first commercial applications made crops pesticide-resistant. Today, the CRISPR system theoretically enables the modification of specific nucleic acid sequences in every cell of a patient's body. Genetic technologies form one of the primary technologies that Neo-luddites oppose.

Although genetic engineering technologies have been implemented at some level in nearly every first world country, control of the system is limited to a minority of the population. Neo-luddites oppose the undemocratic nature of the industry, and claim that better options to solve the problems genetic engineering solves are possible. There has been push-back from numerous groups against genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Many opponents of genetic technologies exhibit Neo-luddite ideologies, saying there is no way for consumers to know what exactly has been done to the organism, or how it will affect consumers long-term. [17] They claim technophiles who support GMOs only take into account the purely scientific value of a technology, not the social value or harm.

Nuclear Technology[edit]

Nuclear technology was discovered with the intended purpose of inflicting damage on the enemy in military conflict for mass destruction. At the wake of World War II in 1938, Lise Meitner and Otto Frisch inferred that by bombarding uranium with neutrons, the uranium nuclei captured one neutron and divided into two fragments, emitting large amounts of energy. This was the discovery of nuclear fission. During this time, Albert Einstein advised the President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, to develop an atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project. This evidently led to the construction and testing of the first plutonium atomic bomb on July 16, 1945 in the desert of Alamogordo (New Mexico), with complete success.

On August 6, 1945, the drop of two atomic bombs onto Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed 129,000 people and resulting in long-term devastating effects. Many suffered from severe burns, and death of 90% of physicians in the bombing resulted in lack of medical attention. Five to six years after the events, survivors developed cancers including leukemia thyroid, breast, and lung cancers. [18]

Neo-Luddites declare that nuclear technology was not built for electricity generation, but for weapons of mass destruction. It is called a "brute-force technology" by self-defined neo-Luddite Paul Josephson, [19] and described as inherently undemocratic and authoritarian. Radioactive contamination from nuclear power destroys communities and creates ghost towns, such as Pripyat near Chernobyl and Minamisoma near Fukushima. Neo-Luddites contend that prevalence of nuclear power plants would scorn local interests; nearby farms and fisheries would suffer from nuclear waste produced by the plant, limiting the use of the land surrounding nuclear plants. Not only does nuclear power cause destruction on a local level, but also on an international level. Radioactive waste remains lethal for many years and there is no proven method for dealing with it.

Neo-Luddites say that they are not anti-technology (pertaining to nuclear technology) but see it as a threat to the population (particularly children) and damaging to their land. Renewable energy technologies are embraced as a clean source of energy to climate change. However, neo-Luddism promotes the achievement of energy technologies outside of nuclear energies. Neo-Luddism promotes wind, solar, and marine technologies for a sustainable solution to energy crises. They reject the argument that nuclear energy should be pursued to solve climate change and argue that denying nuclear power is not a the determining factor for solutions to climate change; safe, alternative energy options exist. Tax payer money should finance clean, sustainable technologies. [20]

Tesla Motors[edit]

Alternative energy transportation is nothing new, but in recent years companies like Tesla Motors have certainly given them a new look. A simple search in Google’s N-Gram Viewer can show that “alternative energy” was barely talked about prior to the 1970’s, and peaked in the early 1980’s. Oil prices were hitting new premiums, prompting a change in the way we looked at non-renewable energies. For decades, however, electric and hybrid cars were not efficient enough to be worth the high costs and inconvenience of finding a charging station.

In 2003, Tesla Motors began a new era of electric vehicles. Much like Apple, Tesla took special care to craft a product that satisfies the technical objective of creating an electric vehicle and also the social need of having a visually appealing product. The result is a series of cars with a sports car exterior and a high-tech interior, complete with a large touch-screen display and entirely digital interfaces.

Despite the strong visual appeal of these cars, their actual efficiency and “eco-friendliness” is debatable. Tesla argues that their vehicles are 100% clean individually, since they don’t burn any fuel onboard and therefore produce zero carbon emissions. Seeing as approximately 40% of U.S. power is produced from burning coal, however, you must look at where the electricity is coming from to get a true representation of the car’s emissions, which many calculate to be comparable to an internal combustion engine car of similar size. [21] There is significant evidence supporting this claim, which poises us to ask the question: “is it worth it?” If we assume a Tesla vehicle has no ecological advantage over other vehicles on the market, then clearly there is another factor in the company’s success.

The iPhone[edit]

In June, 2007, Apple released the iPhone. The success of the project has continued to increase over the years as each of the eight generations have been released. For size comparison, Apple’s iPhone alone generates more revenue than all of Microsoft. [22] Apple has created a product that not only does what it’s technically prescribed to do, but conforms to social constructs by creating a visually-appealing product as well. This has been essential in Apple’s success, and likely explains why many people are willing to pay a premium price for the iPhone.

Line at Apple Store in NYC

Above all, however, this has created a unique culture around the product itself. In 2006, SanDisk launched a marketing campaign to promote their own products, encouraging people to avoid being “iSheep.” [23] They coined the term to describe the many people that religiously purchase Apple products seemingly because there’s a new product to buy. The term has since remained in use, and serves as one example of the product culture Apple has created. Every time a new product is released, there will undoubtedly be people lining up outside the store for hours and sometimes days to get their hands on the new item. While some of their releases have had significant changes from the previous generation, many only feature minor changes yet still yield the same fervor.

Drones[edit]

A recent instance of technophilia has been the increased accessibility and popularity of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones. While there are useful applications for these devices (usually equipped with cameras), much of their appeal is that they are trendy in the tech world. Their introduction to the market has lead to many questions about the legality and ethics of their use. Often, neo-Luddites are the ones posing these questions. In a 2014 incident, a Connecticut man, Austin Haughwout, was allegedly assaulted by Andrea Mears for flying his camera-equipped drone over the beach. While there was nothing illegal about flying the drone or taking pictures and/or video in a public place, Mears clearly took exception to the morality of what Haughwout was doing, and lashed out in a way she deemed appropriate. [24] While violence is not common, critics have been vocal about drones. The main concern is that the new technology is a threat to individual privacy, which conflicts with the first principle of neo-Luddism.

Conclusion[edit]

Considering neo-Luddism and technophilia prompts general questions regarding the social interface of technology that can be topics of further exploration.

Fear: The Relationship of Fear and Technological Development[edit]

Neo-Luddism is often portrayed as being synonymous with technophobia; however, what role does fear actually play in shaping the neo-Luddite response to new technologies? How is fear manifested in neo-Luddism? If neo-Luddism is associated with fear of new technologies, can technophilia be associated with the absence of fear of new technologies? Where is the distinction made between excessive fear and appropriate caution?

Risk-Benefit Analysis: What level of risk is necessary in developing new technologies?[edit]

What level of risk should be tolerated in the introduction of new technologies? It would be interesting to look further into examples of technologies where unintended discoveries had great societal benefits as well as examples of technologies that had profound unintended negative repercussions.

Sociolinguistics: How do Neo-Luddism and Technophilia Illustrate Language Bias?[edit]

The opposition between neo-Luddism and technophilia illustrates concepts in the field of sociolinguistics. In particular, discussions related to neo-Luddism and technophilia contain several examples of language bias, the phenomenon in which social groups use language to perpetuate social behaviors and beliefs.

How does the notion of technological "progress" exemplify language bias?
It can be argued that the phrase "technological progress" is biased language that is used to perpetuate ideas of technophilia. "Since the Industrial Revolution, the idea that controlling nature through technology automatically produces progress has become so widely accepted that it has become unconscious, a kind of common sense that is rarely questioned". [25] Using the phrase "technological progress" interchangeably with "technological development," however, promotes the misconception that developing new technologies results in the betterment of society. Historically, this is not always the case. Future work could include further investigation of instances in which the term "technological progress" is used and the effect that it has on society's perception of new technologies as well as the potential dangers of defining progress by novelty.
How do neo-Luddites use language to undermine technophiles? How do technophiles use language to undermine neo-Luddites?
It is a commonly observed phenomenon that social groups often promote their own beliefs by strategically using language to undermine their opposition. This is seen to be the case in the tension between neo-Luddist and technophilic ideologies. Opponents of technophilia frequently use terms such as "addiction" and "obsession" when discussing technophilia. In many instances, technophilic addiction to technology has been compared to addiction to drugs. "Internet Addiction Disorder" (IAD) is a term that was coined in 1995 by Dr. Ivan Goldberg and can be described as "a serious problem involving the inability to control use of various kinds of technology, in particular the Internet, smartphones, tablets and social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram". [26]
On the other hand, opponents of neo-Luddism use the term "technophobe" to portray neo-Luddites as irrationally afraid of new technologies. This can have the effect of undermining a cautionary approach to new technologies.

Extremism: How Can Extreme Reactions Prove Beneficial?[edit]

Neo-Luddites represent an extreme reaction against what they view as the status quo in society today. This extremism is not a new phenomenon. Two cases provide examples of other individuals who have challenged a social norm in a way that led to violence. Although violence and extremism should never be the first path for addressing an issue, the extremists viewpoints can address inherent flaws that it may be hard for people with a society to see. While people today clearly see the problems with slavery, these problems were not so clear to those in the 1850s. John Brown's actions at least shed light on the problems with the system. Similarly, Karl Marx hoped to address the exploitation of workers that came with a capitalist society. Although his solution can be viewed as overly extreme, his viewpoints addressed a serious issue. Do the viewpoints of Neo-Luddites help us in a similar way? Even if they are extreme, do they help to expose the problems with a society consumed with new technology?

John Brown:
John Brown was an abolitionist in the 19th Century United States. He is know for his violent attacks against slaveholders prior to the Civil War. In his last and most well-known attack, Brown briefly took over the Federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry. He was subsequently captured at Harper's Ferry and then tried and executed. Brown's motivation for his violence was in protest to the existence of slavery within the United States. He viewed slavery as a moral wrong and believed that it could no longer be accepted as the norm. His extreme reactions are an analogy to how some Neo-Luddites respond to what they view as a society dominated by technophilia.
Karl Marx:
Karl Marx reacted to a perceived status quo in Europe around the same time that John Brown acted in the United States. Marx saw Europe's rapid industrialization and acceptance of capitalist ideologies as a threat to the common working class. He asserted that the working class, or proletariat, would eventually take power and establish a society free from class distinctions. Although not as blatantly violent as Brown's actions, Marx's ideas still represented a radical reaction to a perceived norm in society. His ideas laid the groundwork for violent and powerful revolutions over the next century aimed at disrupting the status quo of society by unseating the capitalists from power.

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