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Did we underestimate the Luddites?


In this ever-changing world we live in, I’m always looking for books that help me think a little deeper about the challenges of this day and age, especially when it comes to how technology impacts our lives.

Recent books that have helped shape my understanding include: “Uncanny valley” By Anna Wiener, which punctures the bubble of the tech industry and makes me question how many of these emperors could possibly be naked.

“Verified: How to Think Straight, Be Less Fooled, and Make Better Decisions About What to Believe Online” Written by: Mike Caulfield and Sam Wineburg have equipped me with strategies to resist being swept away by the flood of lies flowing freely on social media. And finally Kyle Chayka “Filterworld: How Algorithms Flattened Culture” It has sensitized me to how much of what I consume in media is the product of algorithmic sorting, and how I need to be more conscious of when to allow my tastes to be influenced by aggregation.

I’m adding Brian Merchant to this group “Blood in the Machine: The Origins of the Rebellion Against Big Tech.” This book is primarily a corrective history of sorts of the Luddite movement, but in Merchant’s hands it is also a history that helps us better understand the present.

Until recent layoffs, Merchant was a technology columnist for the Los Angeles Times; He often took opposing positions on technological progress, questioning whether some of these advances were truly beneficial to society. In retelling the story of the Luddites, Merchant aims to expand and complicate the popular image of a group of people who stood in the way of technological progress due to unfounded fear or superstition.

In fact, Merchant shows that the Luddites were not anti-technology. These early 19th-century textile workers were instead reacting to the thoughtless replacement of high-quality human labor with inferior (but cheaper) machine work. Their concerns were not reactionary or superstitious, but literally existential. Technology was coming to take away their livelihoods and lifestyles without any offer of compensation in return.

Told through a series of short narratives, each illustrating key moments in the movement, Merchant brings the past, these people, and their motivations to life; among them is “Ned Ludd”, a person who never existed, a legend said to have destroyed the factory owner’s machines. emerged as the symbol of this movement.

I’ve lost track of the times I wrote “I didn’t know that” in the margins.

In later chapters of the book, Merchant juxtaposes the history of the Industrial Revolution with today’s technological disruption, showing both how much has changed and how little. He uses the example of Doug Schifter, who has been chauffeuring people around Manhattan since 1981 and has driven more than 5 million miles. But after the arrival of Uber, he found himself driving 120 hours a week to make ends meet, eventually realizing that the job he had been doing for 40 years was over. In a public act of protest, Schifter took his own life.

We may love the convenience of Uber, but Merchant’s book sensitizes us to costs.

There’s no simple solution here, and Merchant doesn’t pretend to think otherwise, but the conclusion of his book suggests that if we’re not willing to show care and attention to people who are being pushed aside in the world, we may be inviting literal rebellion. the name of progress.

Who knows? Those people could be us.

John Warner is the author of “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Requirements.”

Twitter @biblioracle

“Blood in the Machine: The Origins of the Rebellion Against Big Tech” by Brian Merchant. (‎Little, Brown and Company, September 2023)

Book recommendations from Biblioracle

John Warner tells you what you should read, based on the last five books you’ve read.

1. “Ozark Dogs” by Eli Cranor

2. “The Flower Moon Killers: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI” By David Grann

3. “Yesterday’s Spy” by Tom Bradby

4. “Words of Destiny” By Paige Shelton

5. “Wild Coast” By Lin Anderson

—George R., Virden

George is a great candidate for Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series, which begins with “Still Life.”

1. “White Doves in the Morning” by James Lee Burke

2. “Texas by the Tail” by Jim Thompson

3. “Three Bedrooms in Manhattan” By Georges Simenon

4. “Alice Network” By Kate Quinn

5. “One Hundred Years of War Against Palestine” By Rashid Khalidi

—Harvey Y., Northbrook

The grit and mystery of Daniel Woodrell’s “Winter’s Bone” will suit Harvey well.

1. “The French Bride” By Evelyn Anthony

2. “Beyond the Highland Mist” By Karen Marie Moning

3. “Safe Haven” by Nicholas Sparks

4. “Every Breath” by Nicholas Sparks

5. “A Must Have” By Jessica James

—Bonnie C., Rolling Meadows

So here we are looking at a cross between romance and thriller. I’m going for the classic gothic romance/thriller in the form of Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca.”

Get a reading from Bibliocle

Send a list of the last five books you read and your hometown to: biblioracle@gmail.com.


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