I will be presenting the attached paper at 4S next month. There was some interest in it previously and I won’t be able to really work on it until after the conference so I’m posting the draft here. My hope is to develop this more in the spring and publish something as a precursor to an eventual book project.
Contemporary Luddism: Lifestyle Politic vs Collective Movement
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 fence-breakers during the English enclosure movement, the destruction of railways during the Boxer rebellion, or other instances of resistance to technological imposition.
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.