May 1, 2013

Case File #013.05.01: LUDDITE

In Nottingham, England, circa 1589, a man by the name of William Lee invented something he called a stocking frame, which was essentially a machine that could knit stockings. Due to resistance from both the British monarchy and the working class, not to mention that the machine only produced a low-quality fabric, Lee was ultimately unsuccessful in getting the British stocking industry to accept his machine, and he died a pauper in the early seventeenth century. After Lee's death, however, other inventors refined his original design for the stocking frame, and by the mid-eighteenth century, the stocking and textile industries were well on their way to becoming mechanized. Legend has it that around 1779, a working-class Brit by the name of Ned Ludd wasn't too happy about the prospect of losing his job to a machine, and he therefore broke into his place of employment after hours and destroyed the factory's newly installed stocking frames. Some thirty years later, workers in Leicester, England, protested the low wages at their own place of employment by destroying the factory's machinery during nighttime raids, and such wage-based riots eventually spread throughout industrialized England. Around 1816, government intervention and wage increases brought the protests and the property damage to a halt, but not before the public and the media had bestowed upon the protesters the moniker Luddites, a heavy-handed allusion to the similarities between the protests and the legend of Ned Ludd. Since then, the term Luddite has been used as a historical reference to the individuals who took part in those riotous early nineteenth-century protests, but it wasn't until around 1961, at the advent of the computer age, that the term took on its current popular sense of “one who is inept in the use of technology.”

©2013 Michael R. Gates

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