Have you ever stopped and looked around you, at the nightmare of commuting, struggling to find or keep a job, never enough money, pollution, war and thought to yourself, “how on earth did I end up like this?’. Well my friend, the journey started sometime ago.
Let me take you back a few centuries.
You’re a weaver living in England. You work from home with your family around you. You buy raw materials from the traveling merchant and sell him your finished product. A product renown throughout Europe for it’s superior quality. There is no free market economy so prices are predictable and consistent, which means so is your income. You have an idyllic life.
And what an enviable way of life it is. Picture this, (please go to iTunes download and play ‘Morning’ from the Peer Gynt Suite), a small cottage in the bucolic English countryside. Butterflies flit from colourful flower to colourful flower whilst the birds sing sweetly in the lush green trees by the babbling brook. Inside the cottage the weaver is contently finishing his latest creation destined for the markets of Europe and because the price of his goods never changes, he knows how much he will be paid. His wife and children are happily helping him in his tasks. Pausing to refresh himself from his labours, he wanders out into the garden to check on the progress of the spinach, pull a few weeds out of the potato patch and throws the chickens some food left over from the family lunch. He is is self sufficient and abundant.
At this time the idea emerged that it was possible to create machines that would produce goods much faster and with less manpower. Not only that, unskilled manpower. It also meant that you could sell the products at a much cheaper price. Of course the woven articles produced by machines were of a much inferior quality but hey, they were cheap.
And so the industrial revolution started powered by water and then the newly invented steam engine. Along with it came the free market economy, land enclosure and the idea that people were human resources to serve the machine. In those times people displaced from the land by the new factories or put out of business by the free market economy had no option but to work in appallingly dangerous conditions in factories for extraordinarily long hours and very little pay.
The weavers fought against this ‘progress’ and developed into a group of people who became known as the ‘Luddites’, after a mythical character who was, supposedly, their leader. They petitioned Parliament, protested, marched, waged guerrilla war and were eventually defeated soundly by the army, police force, and the Government. The Government, of course, had a lot of members who stood to gain from this new technology and they soon enacted laws to suppress any opposition to what became the industrial revolution.
History is written by the victors and that is why now we understand the term ‘Luddite’ to refer to some fool who cannot cope with new technology. The Luddites, in fact, were trying to hang on to the idea that technology should serve mankind and not the other way round. Count me as a Luddite.
What’s all this got to do with our modern world, I hear you ask. Well, everything. As a result of the change of thinking that occurred in the 18th century, we now accept as normal the idea that we leave our home and families to go to a place of work, could be a factory or a shop or an office, where we exchange large slabs of our time for cash. More importantly, we accept that the welfare of human beings is secondary to that of technological ‘progress’. Progress is when the machine becomes more efficient or produces more in less time with less human input. The focus of progress is never to improve what it is to be human except in the most superficial way in order to sell more products and keep the machine going.
Another knock on effect of industrialisation is that systems become more centralised and so people who lived on the land must congregate in cities in order to exchange their time for money. You can see this happening all round the world as nations become industrialised.
So here we are – leaving our homes and families everyday to go to a place where we exchange our time and skills for not enough money to live the life we’d really like. All because the Luddites lost and were steamrollered by the industrial revolution.
I’m coming out.
I admit it.
I’m a Luddite. A true Luddite. I believe that technology and progress should serve humanity not enslave it. I believe it is more important to enjoy being a human beingÂ than make the machine more efficient. I believe that the planet is a part of us and we are a part of the planet so technology and progress should serve it not wreck it.
Who will join me?
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I often wonder what life would be like if the Luddites hadn’t failed in their attempt to humanise progress. But unfortunately they couldn’t win. For starters they weren’t an actual organised entity, just a collection of individuals who stood to loose most from, what was later termed, the Industrial Revolution. They were up against those with the capital, the British government, (predominately the same people), the British Army and the Police Force. Even so it took hastily drafted draconian laws, quite a few hangings and a lot of violence to quell them.
We are living with their defeat today. It’s why we travel in peak hour droves to a place of work where we exchange large slabs of our lives for money.
Before the industrial revolution there was an organic economy based on land, labour and local exchange.
The weavers of the north of England were largely one-person home businesses. Apart from producing woven goods, often with the involvement of his family, the weaver also had a small self-sufficient family vegetable garden. Because of the quality and the demand for his manufactured goods, he was always assured that everything he produced would be sold at a constant price. He and his family had abundance, stability and unrestrained social interaction.
Technology allowed the manufacture of goods, although inferior in quality, independent of nature, of geography and season and weather, of sun or wind or water or human and animal power. It produced an economy based upon fuel, factory and foreign trade. Humans became a minor consideration in the manufacture of goods and were now serving the machine.
It was this uncontrolled empowerment of the machine in human society that the Luddites fought against.
The people who formed the Luddite movement were mainly weavers or similar craftsmen. They had the most to loose. They fought for and lost their idyllic cottage industry lifestyle of stability and self-reliance. The very lifestyle that a lot of us yearn for today.
The combined power of weaving machines, the steam engine, the laws of enclosure that enabled industrialists to fence off farming land and build factories, put an end to the weavers way of life. Whereas before the factories, agreed customary prices and therefore income were stable, the new technology brought with it a free market economy, which drove prices and wages down along with the quality of the product.
Life for the displaced farmers and weavers forced into the urban factories had become grim. Working for long hours in dangerous conditions with no days off for very low pay, men, women and children spent their lives either working or sleeping. Several families would have to share one house to save on rent. Humans had become a disposable adjunct to the machine. This is what the Luddites and those before them were against.
History is written by the victors, who were obviously not the Luddites, which is how the word has come to be used to mean a stupid person who doesn’t understand and is opposed to advances in technology. They were in fact very perceptive. They could see what was going to happen to humanity.
And they were right. Despite their valiant opposition we now have a collective mindset that says we must have a JOB and go to WORK for some one else. It is now taken for granted that production and technological progress is more important than being human.
There was a brief time, with the advent of computers, that we all entertained the idea that computers would handle the more mundane tasks of modern life such that the working week would be reduced to three or four days, maybe less. It’s what the Luddites would have supported. Didn’t happen. The increased capacity that computers gave us was simply used to produce more not improve humanity. The amount of time many office workers spend away from home at a JOB has actually increased.
Interestingly a totally unplanned result of computer technology has given some people a chance to recreate the weaver’s lifestyle. I’m referring to the internet. There are those that have replaced the loom with the computer and yarn with broadband. They have offices in their homes where they can interact with their families, live in a country environment and grow vegetables and keep chickens should they choose. As for products they range from selling information to buying and selling on e-bay, trading in stocks and shares to advertising.
Thanks to appropriate technology, we have the opportunity to conduct business whilst packing the kids off to school, planting the spinach, feeding the chickens and maybe an afternoon delight between Google-ads.
Used this way the computer can give us more free time and at last live up to it’s promise.
It’s not much but I’m sure that the mythical Nedd Ludd would approve.
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It was a morning that heart attacks are made of.
Bitterly cold with rain that could be best described as a miserable heavy drizzle. The sun had not yet made it over the horizon to brighten up the top of the rain cloud blanket.
The figures at the bus stops were barely discernible. Grey shapes with umbrellas against grey houses and pavements, limply illuminated by sickly yellow sodium streetlights. And it was Monday. The first day of the working week.
The bus driver was a different story. Relentlessly eccentric, laughing at a world that takes itself far too seriously. He had decorated his bus with stuffed toys of all colourful varieties, a lioness, a gorilla in a RAP outfit, a clown fish, a puppy dog in a fireman’s hat.
In a plastic ice cream container taped to his change counter he offered free lollies for his passengers and wore on his head a hat in the shape of a pink pig. The dismally damp Monday morning commuters could not help but smile when confronted with this theatre of the absurd. Folding their soggy umbrellas they fumble with frozen fingers to find money or season tickets.
As I watched the shadowy grinding traffic and listened to the hiss of tyres on wet tarmac, it struck me. Why on earth am I doing this to myself? Why is anyone doing this to themselves?
The truth is that we have gotten used to this way of life over the centuries, ever since the Luddites failed to stop the inexorable march of the industrial revolution. The factory or office and technology became more important than human beings or quality of life. It was this that the Luddites were actually opposed to. Technology that enslaved humanity rather than adding to what it was to be human.
So here we are a couple of centuries down the tarmacadam and we now accept as normal the concept of going somewhere away from home and family to exchange time for money in order to survive. A total dependence on some one else’s business and self-interest for survival.
A plague on this 19th century poverty mindset. I needed to take control of my life. Live how I want to live, relying on my own talents and initiative. Stop traveling on buses on dark wet Monday mornings.
I’m not quite sure how it came about, but I found myself in the possession of Stone Evans’s E-book “Dotcomology”. And there was the answer. As plain as could be. Start Internet marketing.
The book taught me about making an attractive website, gave me some ideas about what business to run on the internet, showed me how to use search engines, taught me about email marketing, affiliate programs, joint ventures, viral marketing, adsense and even how to manage life when you work from home.
The Internet is, in effect, the next revolution. Most interestingly it enables those who are willing to embrace it, a chance to return to the idyllic days of a pre-industrial revolution lifestyle, but with broadband and enjoy a modern day version of self employed bliss.
And what an enviable way of life it was back then. Picture this, (please go to iTunes download and play”Morning” from the Peer Gynt Suite), a cottage in the bucolic English countryside. Butterflies flit from colourful flower to colourful flower whilst the birds sing sweetly in the lush green trees by the babbling brook.
Inside the cottage the weaver is contently finishing his latest creation destined for the markets of Europe and because the price of his goods never changes, he knows how much he will be paid. His wife and children are happily helping him in his tasks.
Pausing to refresh himself from his labours, he wanders out into the garden to check on the progress of the spinach, pulls a few weeds out of the potato patch and throws the chickens some food left over from the family lunch. At no time is he separated from home and family and he never gets on a Monday morning bus!
Today, thanks to appropriate technology, we have the opportunity to conduct business at home whilst packing the kids off to school, planting the spinach, feeding the chickens and maybe indulging in an afternoon delight between google-ads.
The computer has replaced the weaver’s loom, the Internet has replaced the traveling merchants, software has replaced the yarn, but I bet you we have the same aspirations for peace, joy and happiness as our ancestors. But probably not pink pig hats! They didn’t need them.
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