“I’m a Luddite”, magazine editor James Tuckerman proclaimed as Master of Ceremonies for Microsoft’s Asia Pacific Bizspark Summit this week.
James was referring to an article in Australian Anthill in the 1990s where he predicted businesses would never use the Internet for research.
Being a Luddite isn’t a bad thing, James contends. In his view being skeptical about technology enables business owners to better evaluate technology as Luddites “think like a layman, don’t know the limits and think commercially”.
None of this is true though – being a skeptic is not the same as being a Luddite.
The original Luddites in the English Midlands weren’t anti-technology, they were opposed to the technology that would put them out of work.
At the beginning of the 19th Century, mill workers were a highly skilled and extremely well paid trade but the new automated loom technology meant those skills were no longer needed.
To protect their livelihoods, the loom workers started smashing the new machines and burning down factories. Eventually they were viciously suppressed by the British government with some being executed while others were transported to Australia.
What drove the Luddites was the loss of their income and who is to say we would have behaved any differently if we were faced with being unemployed and destitute in the harsh conditions of 19th Century England.
However we shouldn’t equate being skeptical about technology with being protecting one’s turf.
Today’s Luddites are those businesses who don’t want to move with the times – those who have grown fat on easy credit or lazily clipping the tickets on state sanctioned monopolies.
Some of those Luddites are going broke as consumers stop buying electrical goods or cars, while others lobby their friends in government to protect their privileged and profitable positions.
In the early 1800s the Luddites eventually lost, we can only hope that when history repeats itself two hundred years later today’s Luddites haven’t damaged the economy too much.
James Tuckerman isn’t a Luddite and that’s why he’s part of the future. I just wish he wouldn’t call himself one.