What is a Luddite?

It’s difficult for me to write about a controversial topic like electric vehicles, cord cutting, or renewable energy without using the term “Luddite.” Recently, my wife’s cousin commented on one of my blog posts regarding Blu-ray players: “I am a real Luddite…I have to read directions to play a DVD…so, what is a Blu-ray?”

I explained that she isn’t a Luddite, but merely ignorant of the topic (a neophyte, if you will—although this label implies she’s already embraced the new system). I realized that, if I’m going to be throwing this somewhat misunderstood historical term around like a drunk college kid hitting on people at a frat party, I might want to provide a bit of definition and clarity.

According to Wikipedia, “The Luddites were 19th-century English textile artisans who protested against newly developed labour-replacing machinery from 1811 to 1817. The stocking frames, spinning frames and power looms introduced during the Industrial Revolution threatened to replace the artisans with less-skilled, low-wage labourers, leaving them without work. Although the origin of the name Luddite is uncertain, a popular theory is that the movement was named after Ned Ludd, a youth who allegedly smashed two stocking frames in 1779, and whose name had become emblematic of machine destroyers.”

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We’re living in a period in which the introduction of disruptive technology is faster and more pervasive than at any time in the history of the world. We used to call it paradigm shift. Now we love the term “disruption.” Whatever the label du jour, it’s a way of describing the merciless onslaught of myriad digital technologies, social media networks, next-gen transportation models, and brilliant biotech breakthroughs.

And then there’s the old guard. The folks who profit from and control the outdated legacy tech used by millions or billions of people; the corporate status quo and their political allies. They don’t easily release their grasp on our lives—or our wallets. Plain and simple, Luddites are protectionists. They’re the mob heavy standing on the corner who sneers, “Beat it, kid. This is our block.”

I’m sure the entrenched, wealthy powers that controlled horses and buggies were freaked out by the first automobiles. It’s clearly evident that television intimidated the hell out of film makers and cinema owners in the 1950s (it explains the plethora of experimental aspect ratio introductions to differentiate cinema from TV’s 4:3 format). Heck, I wouldn’t doubt if whiskey companies were a bit alarmed by the invention of the hypodermic needle prior to the civil war—fast-acting morphine being the disruptor.

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Luddites are everywhere. Ebook authors Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler write about the desperate and short-sighted efforts of those in the legacy publishing industry. Automobile industry Luddites have grabbed headlines recently for their successful campaigns to halt test drives and sales of electric cars in Iowa and Michigan. Cable companies like Time Warner and Cox are acting like Luddites in their attempts to keep you from cutting the cord and using only streaming services like Netflix and Hulu Plus. And, of course, the very Ludditist Koch Brothers and Big Oil will do their best to prevent folks from obtaining new tech like electric cars and power from sustainable sources like solar, wind, and nuclear energy. Despite superior (and affordable) alternatives, fracking continues unabated.

Bloggers and writers, both professional and amateur alike, need to focus on how easily their communications are understood, not necessarily impressing readers with big words. But in a time of severe disruption and technological advancement—and the displacement of entrenched old-school corporate and political players—terms like “Luddite” are more necessary than ever.

Stay vigilant, dear readers. Don’t let the Luddites destroy the new digital looms.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

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Tesla Bigot: IADA’s Bruce Anderson

Bruce Anderson, president of the Iowa Automobile Dealers Association (IADA), recently forced the shutdown of a planned day of Model S test drives being offered by Tesla Motors in Des Moines. I’ve written before about Tesla and how auto dealerships—and their political allies—oppose the all-electric car manufacturer’s direct-to-consumer sales model.

But what car dealers, dealership trade groups, and self-serving Luddites like Anderson really oppose isn’t a particular sales model or how Tesla works with its customers. Rather, they fear fair competition. Compared to Tesla’s next-gen vehicles, their products suck. And they know it.

IADA Bruce Anderson - RESIZEAs reported in the Des Moines Register on September 25, “The Iowa Department of Transportation asked Tesla to stop its West Des Moines test drives after being alerted to the event by the [IADA].” One local resident, who had scheduled a test drive on the final day that was cancelled, lamented, “I hope they get [the laws] changed, because it’s just ridiculous.” Of course, are any of us really surprised that Iowa’s car dealers—in the form of Anderson—went crying to mommy because of a little competition?

And the logic behind the shutdown? In Iowa, “state law requires auto dealers to be licensed, and by offering test drives, Tesla was acting as a dealer,” wrote the Register. And who drew this conclusion? Paul Steier, Director of the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Investigation and Identity Protection. More proof of the lack of intelligence and spirit of fair play in both government and old boy networks like car dealer associations.

To add insult to injury, Iowa lawmakers have little interest in changing the archaic laws currently prohibiting Tesla from conducting something as simple as a test drive of one of its efficient, zero emission cars. The blatant kowtowing of Iowa politicians to big business flies in the face of the desires of Iowa consumers.

Iowa Senator Matt McCoy, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, is, ironically, a fan of Tesla’s cars, having test driven a Model S (in another state, natch) and publicly stated that he plans to purchase the less-expensive Model 3 after its release in 2017. However, McCoy is about as clueless and lacking in foresight as Anderson. “I have mixed feelings about it because I really like the car and I really like what the car stands for,” he said. “But in Iowa, we tend to respect our system and the way it was set up, and I don’t see any appetite to change that.”

Apparently McCoy’s “mixed feelings” are caused by his affinity for the Model S paired with his desire for corporate campaign contributions. By the Senator’s logic, his state would never have evolved beyond horse and buggy, because the Iowa Buggy Dealers Association would have called on its political friends and bureaucratic allies to block sales of the Model T—rationalized by antiquated laws passed before automobiles even came into existence.

Even West Des Moines State Rep. Peter Cownie, chairman of the House Commerce Committee, is in on the game. “You can’t have two sets of rules. That would create an unfair playing field for the small business owners and small car dealers,” he said. By Cownie’s logic, don’t the outdated laws preventing Tesla from offering simple test drives unfairly limit it from doing business and marketing itself in the state of Iowa? Tesla is, after all, a “small business” compared to Ford, Toyota, and GM (each of which, individually, produces more vehicles per day than Tesla has since its inception in 2003).

More important, aren’t these politicians, who were elected to serve their constituents, unfairly limiting the car buying options of those who voted them into office (many of whom have proven they wish to test drive and purchase all-electric cars, like those offered by Tesla)?

According to Anderson (a former attorney), auto dealership licensing “is a matter of consumer protection.” “You can’t just set up in a hotel parking lot and sell cars,” he said. Anderson denies targeting Tesla, saying “it’s not a Tesla issue. This is a regulated industry.” Meaning that it’s not only Anderson and dealerships that are the problem, but also state and federal politicians and bureaucrats. Do Anderson and the dealerships he represents really consider denying residents of their state the opportunity to test drive—let alone purchase—an all-electric vehicle to be “protecting” them?

model s and solar panelsCar dealers nationwide have been freaking out over Tesla’s entry into the crowded auto market. And for good reason. Tesla makes and sells sexy cars that are nearly silent, fast as a Porsche, and do zero damage to the local environment. But what really begins to sway consumers: Tesla’s all-electric vehicles are far cheaper to operate and maintain than their gas-guzzling siblings from Detroit and Tokyo. In comparison, the products from every other automaker—with the exception of Nissan’s all-electric Leaf—are more expensive to operate, damaging to human health, and contribute to climate change. (You can’t commit a Hollywood-style suicide in a Tesla with an open window in a closed garage.)

Because Tesla’s models are currently too expensive for the average joe, call the recent dealership shenanigans a pre-emptive strike. But pre-emptive or not, dealerships, their political allies, and shortsighted dopes like Anderson and his cronies are pulling out all the stops in their desperate efforts to stop Tesla in its tracks. Fortunately, Iowans can purchase Tesla vehicles online—like the rest of the country (helpful for residents of Arizona, New Jersey, Maryland, Texas, and Virginia, where sales of Tesla vehicles are either banned or restricted).

If you think auto dealers are panicking now, wait until Tesla introduces its much-anticipated Model 3 in about three years. Slated to start at roughly $35K, the “everyman’s Tesla” will bring the fight between old-school car dealers and Tesla’s superior alternative to a head. Both dealership owners and auto manufacturers will be frantically spinning their 1988 Rolodexes to reach out to any politician owing them a favor.

But fear not, tree huggers and lovers of future-tech. Tesla will probably get the last laugh. Legacy Luddites like Anderson, Steier, Cownie, and McCoy are a dying breed. Their protectionist attitudes and policies, sustained at the expense of their fellow state citizens, will soon lie in the dinosaur boneyard, just like those 12 mile-per-gallon Hummers that are no longer for sale.

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Curt Robbins

[Also see my response to blog post commenter “bob” and my original Time for Tesla post. If you agree with any of the above, send Bruce Anderson a Tweet at @IADA_Bruce and let him know your feelings.]


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtRobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Gene Simmons: Confused Luddite

Gene Simmons, the bombastic and outspoken bassist and sometimes lead singer of ’70s supergroup Kiss, recently conducted a short interview with Esquire magazine. In it, he claims that “Rock [music] is finally dead.”

Wow. While chart-topping Foo Fighters and thousands of other current—and relatively successful—rock bands are politely disagreeing, it’s the logic behind Simmons’ words that really defies intelligence, not the statement itself.

And who—or rather, what—does Simmons blame for the death of rock music? Technology.

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In particular, file-sharing. “My sense is that file-sharing started in predominantly white, middle- and upper-middle-class young people who were native-born, who felt they were entitled to have something for free, because that’s what they were used to,” he told the magazine. I’m sure no immigrant kids ever used Napster or ripped a CD from the library or a friend. Simmons is ignorantly—or stupidly, depending on your perspective—blaming a technology, file-sharing, for acts of piracy committed by humans. People’s potential sense of entitlement pertains very little to the particular mechanisms employed to satisfy that perception.

The 65-year-old former rock star isn’t only a big bag of crazy, but also seemingly can’t link cause and effect or understand how technology is actually more help than hindrance. Just because today’s music scene is different than in his roughly forty years ago heyday, Simmons somehow thinks it’s all gone to hell. Gene, things change. Today it’s a different world (and not just because we have really crappy reality TV shows). You might want to get used to it, dude.

Yes, CD sales are in the toilet. But bands have typically made more from touring than the sale of physical media (the Beatles being one major exception, but it’s only because they had a disdain for touring). From both small garage bands you’ve never heard of to big acts like Lorde, Taylor Swift, and Macklemore, the bulk of their income typically is derived from performing live, not selling shiny discs.

During the interview (which was conducted by his son Nick; no conflict of interest there), Simmons states: “If you believe in capitalism—and I’m a firm believer in free-market capitalism—then that other model is chaos. It destroys the structure.” What structure? The music industry model from the 1970s and ’80s? Pre-Pandora? Pandora and Spotify are chaos? Really. And here for all these years I thought they were pretty cool companies that increased convenience for consumers while giving exposure to old and new bands alike.

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Yes, the theft of intellectual property is a bad thing, but it’s something in which the vast majority of Americans don’t engage. Napster has been gone since 2002. For 12 years, there have been almost no popular-with-the-masses file-sharing services or schemes available. Litigation by the Recording Industry Association of America ensured that (and good for them; intellectual property theft is bad for producers and the economy alike).

“I am so sad that the next 15-year-old kid in a garage someplace in Saint Paul, that plugs into his Marshall and wants to turn it up to ten, will not have anywhere near the same opportunity that I did,” laments Simmons to his son/interviewer. Wait a second. Today, teens (or anyone) who wants to produce music, paintings, interviews, poetry, writing, fan fiction, videos—literally any form of art—has a plethora of outlets for both their core work and the promotion thereof.

Podcasts on iTunes, videos on YouTube, opinion pieces on blogs, and streaming music from a web site or dedicated service are all readily available—and typically free—for Simmons’ hypothetical Minnesota-based garage band teen to publish the results of his creative impulses.

I don’t know about Simmons, but when I was a kid, one had to beg the owner of the local pub or music venue for a chance to play on a sparsely attended Tuesday evening. Promoting one’s work outside a few small venues or one’s local area was extremely challenging. Today, people in Tokyo or Sydney can effortlessly listen to music from kids in Vancouver or El Paso (regardless of whether any money is made off the relationship).

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Hmmm, let’s see. Napster was released in 1999, 15 years ago. How many good rock bands have come up—and prospered—during the past almost two decades? Foo Fighters, Imagine Dragons, Breaking Benjamin, Rise Against, Linkin Park, and dozens of others don’t count? Simmons said he could identify only two “iconic” rock bands: Nirvana and Tame Impala. Gene, you’ve forgotten to take your medication again, haven’t you?

But wait, it gets better. In an October 2013 interview with Scotland-based Team Rock Radio (only 11 months prior to the Esquire interview), Simmons contradicted his most recent statements, claiming that Kurt Cobain, Nirvana’s famous frontman who committed suicide in 1994, was no icon. “Kurt Cobain—no, that’s one or two records, that’s not enough,” he said. With flip flopping like that, Simmons should run for Congress. Of course, during the same interview, with no sense of sarcasm or humor, he called the internet “a fascinating experiment.”

Gene “God of Thunder” Simmons seems to be confusing file-sharing with music streaming. I have two music-loving teenage daughters. When I queried them, neither had even heard of Napster and both were unfamiliar with BitTorrent—used mostly to steal movies and TV episodes like Game of Thrones, not illegally download music.

While I would disagree that streaming services are killing opportunities for new bands, that’s the core argument. Not whether yesterday’s file-sharing craze is responsible for the state of rock music (which isn’t as dire as Simmons claims; just ask Dave Grohl).

Gene, give up the ignorant technology bashing and go back to doing what you do best: Selling Kiss-themed lunch boxes and biting a blood pill on stage in those ridiculous high-heeled boots you apparently stole from Elton John’s basement.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Social Media’s Anti-Socialization Myth

Last November, I was visiting my in-laws in Maryland for Thanksgiving. After dinner, during a kitchen table conversation regarding the effect of internet-connected mobile devices and social media on the six grandchildren in her house, my mother-in-law asserted that these elements were detrimental to the face-to-face socialization opportunities and practices of the ten to fourteen-year-olds scurrying around her.

She was concerned about the amount of time they were spending using their iPod Touches, iPads, and Nexus tablets to engage in social media using services like Snapchat, Vine, Instagram, and Kik. I’ve heard this exact perspective shared by others—often older folks or those who engage with technology less than the average bear. There’s also those who simply don’t share the wanderlust of modern millennials toward their back pocket smartphones and wi-fi-connected touchscreens.

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With all due respect to my mother-in-law, I say pshaw and call BS on this perspective. It’s an attitude and fear that is increasingly pervasive among paranoid helicopter parents and those who spent the bulk of their lives without this technology (whether it was the result of poverty, preference, or simply the lack of its existence). Unfortunately, ignorance breeds fear. The myriad online virtual communities, especially when combined with broadband bit rates, are not corrupting the social skills and manners of our children. In fact, I contend that they are enhancing these brick-and-mortar skills.

Before you call BS on me, let me explain. Via school, marching band, volunteer activities, neighborhood friends, shopping, the library, and other activities, I believe the average middle class child of today gets plenty of face-to-face socialization. Instead of replacing in-person interactions, mobile device-based social media are actually supplementing them. We’re augmenting what we’ve always done as humans. We’re still sitting around camp fires telling scary stories, but we’re now also telling those stories on Tumblr, Facebook, WordPress, and Twitter.

My 13-year-old daughter can slam out text on her iPod Touch faster than any human I’ve witnessed. She owns the iOS keyboard on that little four-inch screen, making it beg and whimper as she hits a words-per-minute level that’s probably in the top five percent of her peers. But this mastery doesn’t come cheap. Practice makes perfect, as my grandmother used to say, and this girl has spent more time locked into her mobile device and sucking down virtual companionship and cultural enrichment from our 20 Mbps AT&T broadband connection than I’d care to estimate. (See? Even a middle-aged tech zealot like me echoes the theme of overindulgence among teens when it comes to social media.)

Considering the huge investment of time and effort she’s made in these app-based networking services, are my daughter’s social skills lacking? Hardly. She’s probably the most social member of our family. I contend that she has twice the social skills of some Amish kid cruelly deprived of technology and modern social media. She can pull it off in-person with a cute charm that will make even a jaded curmudgeon smile, while also maintaining a dynamic and complicated world of relationships on social media. And yes, Aunt Mildred, that’s all without negatively affecting her grades or volunteer activities.

Not only does social media not put a ding in the real-world social skills of these kids, it often directly enhances them. My daughter, when using Instagram to communicate her love for a particular pop band, made a friend in Canada who actually paid us a visit in the States. OMG, social media benefited the real world! People enjoy making black-and-white arguments and ignoring the thousand shades of grey that compose any issue of serious consideration and its real-world ramifications (and effect on our loved ones). The virtual, i.e. social media world feeds our “face-to-face” reality, and vice versa. Ignoring such a detailed dynamic gets a Luddite button pinned to your chest and moves you painfully close to those who believe the Apollo moon landings were filmed in a studio in Southern California.

riley for framing 2This is like arguing whether women or men are better athletes. To address roughly fifty percent of 7.2 billion people in a way that assumes they all have similar attributes or qualities is simply foolish and shows that more of these misguided souls need to take basic stats and psych classes in college. Some kids are really social, and it will show in both their physical and virtual social worlds—which will surely interact. Other kids are shy or introverted, and they will probably exhibit these characteristics in both their online and real-world personas.

In fact, if anything, a virtual or social media-based existence allows those who may be somewhat agoraphobic or simply lack the self-confidence of the average person (sometimes common among teens) to engage with likeminded others in a way possibly too intimidating if performed face-to-face. Working with social media “training wheels” may actually help young people engage in real life, proving to them that they can successfully conduct and gain enrichment from interactions with others—regardless of the forum. Having options is good. Today, our kids have more varied and dynamic social opportunities than at any time in the history of humans.

Another criticism of modern social media is the detrimental effects of the spasmodic multitasking that often accompanies a teen’s use of several different services at once. I would actually contend that juggling a variety of social media helps teens learn the reality of modern life and its requirement of multitasking. The merits, costs, and benefits of multitasking can be argued until the cows come home. Regardless of the inherent effects of multitasking, kids who are active in social media are going to, on average, be better suited to the realities of a task-juggling world—especially fast-paced work environments and cubicle farms, which are largely digital and screen-based (even for non-technical jobs).

Let’s not allow the pros and cons of multitasking (or any element of modern internet-based culture) to obfuscate the fact that the United States is so lacking in competent high-end technical skills that it must import them from countries like India and Pakistan. I would argue that social media often help children and teens to gain an acceptance and comfort level with technology, inviting them into a world where they desire to understand and maybe even create and manage the technical underpinnings of their incredible mobile devices and hyper-dynamic internet-based social networks.

Our children’s socialization skills are surely critical as they mature and enter educational institutions and eventually take on careers and families of their own. But assuming that social media, multitasking, and virtual online communities are somehow nefariously harming the face-to-face lives of our children is bogus. For sharing ideas, educating themselves, being entertained, seeking mentoring, chatting with peers, and otherwise engaging with likeminded people, social media brings an efficiency and cost/benefit ratio that is often impossible in the real world. This is especially true for those separated by great physical distances, like a kid in Tokyo who wants to talk about the TV show Supernatural or the band Panic! at the Disco with a kid in Cleveland.

Is negatively criticizing young people for harnessing the opportunity to dynamically interact and share ideas—across borders, cultures, and stigmas—really the approach we want to take?

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Curt Robbins

[See also Tweetin’ ‘Bout My Generation.]


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.