Why Luddites Exist

by phil on Sunday Mar 22, 2009 1:24 AM

What creates a tendency to be reactionary toward technological change? I think it might be this principle:

In the midst of change, it's easier to see what's broken than what will replace it.

This is inspired by Clay Shirky's brilliant article about the "death" of the newspaper industry. Clay zeroes in on an important book by Elizabeth Eisenstein on Gutenberg's invention, the Printing Press. This is what Clay likes:
What Eisenstein focused on, though, was how many historians ignored the transition from one era to the other. To describe the world before or after the spread of print was child's play; those dates were safely distanced from upheaval. But what was happening in 1500? The hard question Eisenstein's book asks is, "How did we get from the world before the printing press to the world after it? What was the revolution itself like?"

Chaotic, as it turns out. The Bible was translated into local languages; was this an educational boon or the work of the devil? Erotic novels appeared, prompting the same set of questions. Copies of Aristotle and Galen circulated widely, but direct encounter with the relevant texts revealed that the two sources clashed, tarnishing faith in the Ancients. As novelty spread, old institutions seemed exhausted while new ones seemed untrustworthy; as a result, people almost literally didn't know what to think. If you can't trust Aristotle, who can you trust?

This is another winning quote:

Experiments are only revealed in retrospect to be turning points.

Cross-posted on Drunk Log

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