Angry Robot

tolkien, luddites, shift

Rereading Tolkien‘s stuff. Tolkien was a luddite of sorts. I like many parts of the books, but some parts make me suspicious – not the environmentalism, but the fear of technology. Things were different, I suppose, when the atom bomb was the latest hot offering from science. But there’s something in the way magic is treated in the book… I am beginning to suspect that magic is in fact an idealized stand-in for technology. (Not sure how this would fit with the Benjamin.)

There is a distinct anti-tech sentiment mounting over at shift magazine. A recent issue contained Chris Turner’s excellent why technology is failing us (and how we can fix it). The latest one (not online yet) features a piece about going a week without technology. Curiously, the term ‘technology’ morphs into the phrase ‘digital culture’ by the time we get to the subheader. Sure enough, during the week of supposed tech celibacy, the author reads books, drives cars, talks on the phone – just not the cellphone, thank you very much.

And here’s the failure of all Luddite philosophies: all they do is arbitrarily pick a date to separate the old technology, which is good, from the new technology, which is bad. Books are a technology. Buildings too. What do you think of cooked food? Agriculture? Language itself, many would argue, is a technology. Presumably you’re going to want to use those technologies. Why get all xenophobic about the new ones? By all means be critical, but come on. Don’t be afraid.

I mean, a luddite with a weblog? Shouldn’t he be carving things in stone tablets or something?