Against Ned Ludd

February 18, 2010

Potlatch has flagged up this jaw-dropping Daily Mail/Wired mash-up:

ASBOrometer is a mobile application that measures levels of anti-social behaviour at your current location (within England and Wales) and gives you access to key local ASB statistics.

ASBOrometer is available for iPhone and Android phones. Get it FREE from the iTunes App Store or Android Market now!

Will suggests that someone on the left should use the technology to brew up a Non-Domometer, presumably set to buzz ferociously when its owner is within easy egg-lobbing distance of a tax-dodgers’ palatial des res.

Less facetiously, the technologies are now in our hands to start assembling some dramatic new ways to interact politically with the world. Hardware of an incredible sophistication – GPS positioning devices, digital compasses, and high-resolution displays – is just rattling around in people’s pockets. 85 per cent of people in the UK own at least one mobile phone.

Best of all, the software and the data needed to make it work is largely free, whether in the massive volume of information contained in Google Maps, open source software, or the ability to store and replay millions of short films on YouTube.

A bit of imagination will be required. The late, much-missed Counterfire website began to show how, with minimum expenditure, those on the left could begin to put together an impressive and useful set of tools. Historically, the left has known how to exploit new technologies: whether in the production of cheap, widely-circulated newspapers, or the creative use of film. Here’s a more recent example, from Kenya, showing how widespread mobile phone ownership can be turned to political use.

It won’t be a panacea for all the left’s many and varied problems. But it could help to open up new audiences and strengthen organisations.



  1. Long Live King Ludd! My issue is not with the substance of your post but with the title. The Luddites were not against technology: they were against relations of production which meant that new machines caused workers to lise thier livelihoods and sink into the most dreadful destitution. The Luddites smashed machines not as a principle but as a tactic; to show that human beings could not be steamrollered by the needs of profit (see EP Thompson on the Luddites). So use new technology for the left by all means, but do remember who is left out: not everyone can afford to be part of the brave new digital age.

  2. Thompson’s account, in The Making of the English Working Class, makes it pretty clear that Luddism was more than just machine-breaking; but that it was also something of desperate last-gasp for both a certain style of radical politics, and for the hand-loom weavers and others who broke the machines.

    It was, in the early 1800s, an entirely understandable reaction to industrial capitalism by people wholly deserving of our sympathy. It is less convincing, as a tactic, in the early 2000s.

    The real point with mass communications technology is not that it is opposed to older forms of communication and organisation, but that it is simply part of how people now communicate and organise. Around 80 percent of UK households have internet access – higher than car ownership. It’s also higher than literacy rates in St Petersburg ns in the 1900s (around 60 per cent), but socialists then still used the comparatively new technology of newspapers to organise.

    The key to this is learning how to integrate these new technologies with organisation. It’s fairly obvious no-one on the left has learned how to do this yet. Much of our current malaise (I’d suggest) relates to this question.

  3. ‘Luddites’ has unquestionably become a term of abuse for those who deny the possibilities of new technology. I think it’s reasonable to use the term in this pejorative way.

    ‘not everyone can afford to be part of the brave new digital age?’ Really? I disagree. It is affordable to everyone, even if it means using the Net at the local library rather than having it at home.

  4. Everyone in the u.s. has the option to be a part of it. The internet is free in many places

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