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Modern Luddites

This course has focused to a large extent on the relationship between people and technology. Ultimately, the most important aspect of this is how technology changes the way that view ourselves. But to learn anything about what digital culture tells us about ourselves, we have to first consider the way which we consider the digital world. John Perry Barlow, in his “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” claims his faith in the growth of the internet and especially in the way it can grow independent of government influence. He thought that things were on the right track and believed in the nature of progress. But with any progress there always comes an accompanying reactionary and conservative force, a resistance to the natural advancement of things. Now this isn’t always a negative thing, and in his You Are Not a Gadget Jaron Lanier warns against the harm that can be done if we take progress too quickly without taking the appropriate time to analyze and understand the potential consequences of the our present actions.

There will always be reservations made about extreme changes in technology which bring about a radical shift in the way the world behaves. In the post, “The car that drives itself…,” user aimeelogeman exhibits distrust in the Google Car, a car that does as the title describes. “What happens if the cameras or “scanning laser” malfunction?… “I know personally that I would never fully trust the vehicle.” It’s easy to understand how someone would be hesitant about getting in a car with no human driver, because there is a distinct feeling of a lack of control. This might also be related to why so many people are afraid of flying but not at all nervous about being in a car speeding on the highway. But just as flying is statistically much more safe than driving, a widespread car that drives itself would probably result in a dramatic decrease in accident-related deaths. After all, the vast, vast majority of fatal accidents, for both airplanes and cars, have historically been pilot/driver related (link). But the point here isn’t to debate self-driving cars, but rather to show how people can be distrustful of evolving technology.

Sometimes the break in the relationship between technology and people isn’t due to an internal mistrust, but a vague feeling of discomfort. This could easily be applied to previously mentioned post. What seemed to be emphasized was not the fact the car would inevitably fail itself; this was less important than the overall feeling that something was wrong if the human was taken out of the equation. Similarly, user rodrigin posted in “Geminoid: Freakishly Human” about a line of robots which have advanced nearer than ever to the imitation of a human. While the user does not explicitly express any opinion on the appearance of the robot in the body of the text, their description of the artificial life in the post’s title reflects the criticism that line has received for its eerie appearance. This can be understood by considering the phenomenon known as the “uncanny valley,” which describes the fact that a person’s response towards an entity will become more positive steadily as it becomes more human-like, until the likeness approaches very near-human and then the reaction drops significantly. People will be generally uncomfortable of the idea of something not human becoming too much like a human.

Another source of resentment for people in regards to technology is when a piece of software that has been designed to help us ends up doing exactly the opposite. Kbrown92 examine in their post titled “A Simple Miscommunication” a wesbite devoted to compiling (and most likely somewhat fabricating) a list of errors made by mobile phones’ autocorrect feature. Lanier describes a similar problem with this feature in word processors, and if he had seen this website before writing his manifesto would most likely have had a field day with this.

Man and machine have developed a somewhat good relationship over the past decades, but like any other it is not a perfect union, and many are cautious of the future it may take. Rudy Rucker’s Software describes a world where robots and humans have an interesting and complex connection. Many of the “boppers” are sympathetic with humans and some especially with their creator, but others wish to digitize all of humanity. Several characters, such as Sta-Hi exhibit a distrust of this process, and through this the author may be suggesting a bleak future if we let technology encroach too much on our lives, and especially on the elements which make us human. It’s safe to say, however, that regardless of whether or not it is good for us, technological progression is as inevitable as it always has been.

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