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 The folks who profit from and control the outdated legacy tech used by millions or billions of people; the corporate status quo and their political allies.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.

Innovation: Not a Purple Pencil

Companies today are obsessed with innovation. As they should be. Call it a “paradigm shift,” “disruption,” or simply a “new age.” It’s all the same. If publish or perish is the mantra of academics, then smart companies should be preaching “disrupt or die.”

Marketing efforts prevail, however. Middle class consumers are continually told that the companies from which they purchase goods and services are innovative. But innovation isn’t a #2 pencil on which a company slaps a coat of purple instead of yellow paint. Innovation is a mechanical pencil you can re-use forever, simply purchasing new lead (especially when we’re running out of trees).

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Innovation isn’t a slightly better something, it’s a new something. True innovation from companies is customer-centric. It isn’t the Chevy Volt, with a battery pack cozying up to an internal combustion engine. It’s a fully electric Tesla Model S or a Nissan Leaf, with zero engine noise, more storage space, and connectivity to your smartphone. Disruption isn’t Comcast or Time Warner Cable offering on-demand video streaming or more digital channels. It’s Netflix and Vudu turning the industry upside down and encouraging cord cutting. Improving things for consumers isn’t Hewlett-Packard or Dell cranking out laptops with faster chips and higher resolution screens. It’s Apple, Samsung, and Google producing leading-edge mobile devices and wearables—and making them interactive with our homes and vehicles.

Innovation comes from companies like Netflix, Tesla Motors, Apple, and USAA. It was USAA, the financial services company serving primarily military customers, that introduced taking a photo of a cheque to deposit it. Why was it the little guy, USAA, that developed this consumer-friendly and extremely practical “technology”? Where were Bank of America and Citibank, with their voluminous resources? Probably on the golf course or lobbying in D.C., not forming research labs to produce such consumer-friendly and competition-smashing tech.

In a recent blog post, I discussed the lack of innovation in the auto industry. The proof? Nearly all cars seem the same. Most people I know can ride to lunch with a friend and, after returning, not be able to tell you the brand of car in which they were transported. Yet we can identify an iPad from across the street. While standardization is important, especially for safety, this reflects laziness among the executive ranks of so many companies. For the auto industry specifically, it seems they’d rather play copy cat than focus on real innovation. Innovation isn’t marketing BS. It’s customers and owners telling their co-workers and neighbors “You gotta get one of these!” When was the last time someone told you that regarding their car, lawn mower, or laptop computer?

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The Fremont, California manufacturing facility now occupied by Tesla Motors was previously a GM/Toyota partnership. This is wonderfully symbolic of the changes we’re about to witness in the auto industry. If you think disruption is just Pandora and Snapchat, think again. Let competitors partner on bland products that motivate consumers to say meh and dread the experience of a visit to their local car dealership or Best Buy. Meanwhile, companies like Tesla Motors, Netflix, Apple, and Google will build the new world atop the boneyard of the old dinosaurs. It’s the phoenix from the ashes, and it’s happening right in front of us.

Don’t partner with your competitors—defeat them. Innovate, disrupt, and blow the other guys away. Yes, there are valid opportunities for “coopetition.” Industry consortiums and standards groups are sometimes essential to progress in the marketplace and the interoperability of products and services from different companies. But allowing the accountants to navigate the ship, relying on economies of scale and rationalized partnerships with your enemies is short-term, borderline desperate thinking.

In today’s world, true innovation is disruptive, sustainable, and genuinely enticing to consumers. The only reason most of us aren’t parking a Tesla Model S in our garage is because of the relatively high cost (a topic about which co-founder and CEO Elon Musk has been very honest). But what about 2017, when Tesla introduces it’s roughly $35,000 Model 3? What about when Nissan gets the Leaf to crank out more than 200 miles from a single charge? What? You don’t want a car that produces virtually no sound, features more storage, produces no harmful exhaust, is super-sporty and fast, and costs a fraction of what’s required for gas-powered vehicles to fuel and maintain? Please forgive my cavalier attitude, but I’d say you’re freaking nuts.

If the company for which you work desires to survive and thrive in the 21st century, it must embrace this spirit of ultra-competitive and reality-based innovation. If it doesn’t, the new guys are going to be purchasing your office building or manufacturing facility to produce what middle class consumers really want—and your company will be relegated to nothing more than an obscure Wikipedia entry.

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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.