Embracing Technology Today Can Make You a Luddite

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Embracing Technology Today Can Make You a Luddite? Seriously, this is a very ironic claim given the fact that a luddite, in modern usage, is defined as one who is opposed to change, especially technological change.


However, if you are a student of history, and have looked into the Luddite movement, you will think otherwise.


The Luddites, named after Gen. Ned Ludd (likely fictitious), was a violent protest movement that demanded redress for the brutal effect the Industrial Revolution had on the physical and psychological well-being workers. The movement was based in Britain and for a 14 month period starting in 1811, they destroyed machinery, burnt down factories, and injured or killed several factory owners. The British government, legitimately fearing that they would be overthrown, dispatched 14,000 troops to deal with the violence. The death penalty was approved for anyone caught destroying factory machinery. The British response to the Luddite rampage cost the government 1.5 million pounds.


This all started in 1769 within the British textile industry, which was a cottage industry. Previous to 1769, skilled labourers, working from home, made wool into cloth. Women turned wool into thread or yarn with a single spinning wheel and men wove the cloth.


1769 was the year that Richard Arkwright patented the “spinning jenny”, a spinning frame that allowed one person to handle a dozen threads at once. Not so bad except that the frame could not be powered by a person, and Arkwright settled on water power, and the frame became known as the water frame. The frames needed to be near waterways, so factories were built and work began to move out of the home.


Further technological advances, such as the improved steam engine in 1769 by James Watt (immediately adopted as a power source by Arkwright) and vastly improved land transportation in the early 1800s, lead to the maturation of the factory model. Factories no longer had to be near waterways, raw materials or customers but they could be built anywhere. This ensured that the work no longer came to the people, people had to come to the work.


It is important to note that the Luddites were not opposed to all technology, just technology that was “hurtful to the commonality” or threatened their livelihoods.


Fast forward to today, where 3 of 4 jobs (in Canada) are service based and require very few tools – a computer, phone and internet connection. Not to mention that technology has advanced dramatically and this technology is increasing affordable (the $500 laptop I am using right now would have cost millions and filled a large room in the early 1970s). These factors are enabling people to embrace the technology that enables them to attain self-employment in the form of home-based businesses.


These advances, along with the presence of the internet and the Web 2.0 movement that followed, have lead to proliferation of social media for marketing, advertising, lead generation and even additional markets/revenue streams (an example from the web design industry). There is also a vastly increased willingness to share the latest data, knowledge and wisdom to succeed online. This willingness is also driven by the fact that it is essentially a marketing/communications function as well as a revenue stream (affiliate programs, ad sales) in itself. This is fortunate because there is some real motivation to continue this trend.


Communicating with clients can be done remotely with computers or mobile devices, fast and reliable ISPs, and software like Skype. The same goes for delivering essential documents such as contracts or even the end product (especially for web designers and print designers) with web servers, email, ftp clients, or ftp services.


According to a Statistics Canada report, between 2000 and 2008, employees working from home increased 2 percentage points (17% to 19%). Of these individuals working from home, the vast majority were self-employed and the number of these individuals increased 10% (from 50% to 60% of those working from home) while those working for someone else from home increased slightly by 1 percentage point.


So, if we were to take a ride in Dr. Emmet Brown’s magic DeLorean back to 1811 Britain and transport a Luddite back to 2012, it is very unlikely that they would smash my laptop or try to hack the internet to death. Technological advances in the world of the internet and electronics enable people to reverse the trend (even if it is ever so slightly) of going to the work rather than having the work come to us.


Just very careful what else you tell our Luddite.


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