Paper accepted at 4S2019 NOLA

In a nice turn of events, another panel on resistance to technology will be at 4S, “Luddism: Epistemological and Political.” A paper I am working on was accepted to this panel.

Contemporary Luddism: Lifestyle Politic vs Collective Movement

Nathanael Bassett

This paper discusses trends in technology resistance, and the prevalence of commercial and atomized expressions of Luddism. I map historical examples of technology refusal to contemporary efforts to resist participation in technological society. Historical expressions of Luddism can be understood as “collective bargaining via riot,” as Hobsbawm describes. Luddism as collective action predates its namesake to include examples of resistance to public security and control, including the True Levelers, fence-breakers during the English enclosure movement, the destruction of railways during the Boxer rebellion, or other instances of resistance to technological colonialism. Historical Luddism also involves moving “off-the-grid” and the establishment of alternative societies, such as planned communities and off-the-grid collectives.

But resistance to technology incurs a high cost. “The grid” is increasingly difficult to escape. The cost of refusal can only be incurred by those with economic and social capital to make lifestyle decisions that satisfy a sense of personal security. Contemporary expressions of Luddism now include digital detox workshops, mindfulness seminars, families limiting screen-time restrictions, and patronizing spaces that discourage technology use (such as coffee shops and bars that proclaim they are “WiFi free”).
Delineating between historical and contemporary Luddism has the potential to help us understand Luddism as part of a commercialized identity formed from consumer choices, adaptation to infrastructure as it suits (or impinges) on our needs, and a negotiation with the increasing impossibility of refusal all together. These carry strong implications for the sense of (in)security associated with technology.

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