Commentary by Gary Lawrence Murphy
Are We the Neo-Luddites?
"Each day, I have my breakfast with the family, see the children off
to school and greet my neighbours on my morning walk. I sit down at my
machine at about 10 and work until noon. At noon, I take a walk to the
village, do some errands and stop by the bakery, the grocers and pop into
"In the afternoon,
I tend my garden, take care of other yard and home chores and sit down again at
my machine to concentrate a few hours before the children get home. When school
is out, I meet them at the gate, we talk about their day, and play in the yard
or walk to the park until dinner. After dinner, I sometimes read or just sit in
the living room and be a family together. Once the children are in bed, if there
is rush work to be done, I might sit at my machine a few more hours, or walk
down to the village pub to hear the local news"
Does the above describe your day, the lifestyle of a modern teleworker?
Or does it come nearly verbatim from the testimony of a Luddite, the infamous
followers of the mythical Ned Ludd who opposed the Industrial Revolution
with their mallets and lives in the early 19th century? A recent CBC "Ideas"
program on Luddites, compiled by Paul Kennedy, left me wondering if the
great paradigm shift to telework is nothing more than Nature reclaiming
Who were the Luddites? Weavers mostly. Were they anti-progress? Each
had the very latest 'Pentium' loom at home, and like us, always interested
in innovation and technical improvements to make their work easier. So
why did they smash machines? Why were they so dedicated to the Luddite
cause that they would pay with their lives?
Luddism was born two centuries ago, in 1796, in reaction not to progress,
but to industrialism. At the turn of that century, factory looms were the
latest innovation, and a factory job meant arriving at dawn for a 15 to
18 hour working day, and the door was locked behind you in the morning
and not opened until the end of the shift. To the Luddites, the factory
looms spelled the end of a way of life, of craftsmanship, of community
and of family.
In 1997, the Spearman, Texas, Chamber of Commerce Web page starts with:
"We're looking for telecommuters and small business owners who would
like to live and conduct their businesses where....
the crime rate is
so low it is not even a topic for discussion.
SAFELY play outside or walk downtown for a soda.
there is only one
traffic signal in town.
you can drive to
work in five minutes or less.
the keys to your
potential are more important than the keys to your house.
participate in your children's school activities during your lunch or coffee
"We've always been alarmed at the tendency to containerize people," says
75-year-old Bob Propst. Bob who? In the middle '60s, Bob and his partner
Herman Miller developed the "Action Office," a partial enclosure we now
affectionately call the "cubicle."
Luddites attacked the factory looms with sledgehammers. The industrial
barons (the government by extension) had just seen the French and then
the American revolutions, and feared the worst. With a tremendous show
of strength, the Luddite 'uprising' was smashed in 1812, and anyone since
who opposed "progress" has been honoured with their name. In the wake of
the recent Ontario Teachers' Strike, the largest such strike in North American
history, and in light of the government and labour union media campaigns,
perhaps there is another angle to telework: "For the children" ... The
popular notion in the Telework lobby (IVC and AT&T) equates telework
with the social benefit of reduced auto emissions, and then move directly
to 'business case' issues of increased productivity, reduced overhead and
other gains for the modern share-holders.
Thinking back to Ned Ludd, I wonder if the stakes are not considerably
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