Week 3 \ Luddism \ Ariel Alter

Luddism was a social movement in early 19th century England during the transition from artisan mode of making things to industrial production. Its proponents opposed the rise of knitting machines that could be operated by unapprenticed laborers and the migration of skilled workers to the factories. This meant the devaluation of skilled workers and the autonomous, tolerable working conditions as they were now parts in a larger machine. The movement became stigmatized by the English government  to the point where destroying the machines (”industrial sabotage”) would be punishable by death. The movement led to uprisings and battles between the British and Luddite armies, and eventually quelled after 3 luddites murdered a mill owner and three Luddites were hanged.

Today, the term is meant pejoratively against someone who irrationally opposes new scientific ideas and technology. I think that the use of this term is inaccurate because the Luddites had a legitimate reason for protesting against capitalist fat cats- would you rather work at home, or dehumanized in a factory? How would you feel if your life’s cultivation of a skill was nonchalantly tossed into the incinerator of archaism? What I think the Luddites were ultimately fighting for was their quality of life, not an ideological opposition to technology that made their lives easier.

In the recent past I’ve noticed various Design/Media Art students apply the term to the art students in group revelry. The art student as painter, sculptor, ceramicist, or any other medium specific field is a burning effigy tacked up to the while while desma students silently click away and stare into the screen. Someone who uses archaic art forms- analog as opposed to digital photography, printmaking as opposed to adobe illustrator, or any other digital/ analog analogy is considered an “art luddite.” One thing that I have noticed is that the art students don’t apply this term to themselves, and would really like to experiment with digital technology and feel that the department itself is behind and archaic, unlike the original luddites who actively disowned technology.

To get a rise out of one of my design/ media art I Instant Messaged her with the Luddite anthem to parody her preconception of art students being laptop burning amishmen:

“As the Liberty lads o’er the sea
Bought their freedom, and cheaply, with blood,
So we, boys, we
Will die fighting, or live free,
And down with all kings but King Ludd!”

To which she responded: “My robot army will murder you.”

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