Luddites go Hollywood

News Of Very Narrow Interest

Maybe I’m overly sensitive but it bugs me when someone assumes you do not know how to use a piece of technology because you choose not to use it. Why don’t you answer my texts? Don’t you carry a cellphone? You’re not on Instagram? How do you know what’s going on? Today, someone who refuses to engage with technology is branded a Luddite, an inept technophobe. Apparently, rampant “tech-shaming” is one of the last bastions of permissible bullying and anyone who is not an “early adopter” is considered fair game. This is ignorant and unfair, particularly to the Luddites.

In early 1800’s England, a group of artisans and textile workers, the Luddites, staged a workers’ revolt against the factory owners. As machinery was being introduced into the workplace in the name of efficiency and cost-savings, they saw their employment and wages suffer, product quality decline, and working conditions worsen. They were not opposed to machines. In fact, many of them were highly-skilled machine operators.

While the owners and the British government characterized them as standing in the way of progress, their demands were actually quite progressive, arguing for a share of the savings in the form of better wages, training and apprenticeship programs, and pension and retirement benefits. Even their name had more than a whiff of modernity. ‘Luddites’ were followers of Ned Ludd, a mythical person who never actually existed. Having a virtual leader, an avatar. You can’t get much more modern than that. Think what the Luddites would have done with TikTok!

Eventually, the government tired of the Luddites smashing machinery as a negotiating tactic and British troops made short order of the protesters, including hanging a few of the leaders. A 19th century version of collective bargaining. Industrialization was saved and for decades dehumanizing and dangerous factory work and exploitive child labor was tacitly accepted by many as the price of progress.

Which brings us to the Hollywood writers’ strike. Like the Luddites, they feel threatened by machinery, the virtual machinery of streaming and artificial intelligence (AI). The writers see AI as limiting their employment opportunities, capping their wages and producing a homogenized product. The use of AI eliminates many of the entry level jobs which helped writers learn their craft and move up the ranks. Streaming makes it more difficult to receive residual payments from hit TV shows. Lower pay, less jobs, an inferior product, no training and limited career advancement with an uncertain retirement horizon. Sound familiar?

Everything old is new again. Normally, Hollywood would be cranking out screenplays about the sinister threat posed by these insidious technologies. But alas, they are on strike and no such scripts are forthcoming.

M.A. Duca is a resident of Twin Lakes, narrowly focused on everyday life.

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