Technophobia (from Greek τέχνη - technē, "art, skill, craft" and φόβος - phobos, "fear"), popularly known as Luddism, is defined as the irrational fear or dislike of technology and science, complex devices, particularly computers, genetic engineering, cybernetics and artificial intelligence. It is related to cyberphobia and is the opposite of technophilia. Dr. Larry Rosen, research psychologist, computer educator, and professor at the California State University suggests that there are three dominant subcategories of technophobes- the "uncomfortable users", the "cognitive computerphobes", and "anxious computerphobes". First receiving widespread notice during the Industrial Revolution, technophobia has been observed to affect various societies and communities throughout the world. This has caused some groups to take stances against some modern technological developments in order to preserve their ideologies, politically granted privileges, or socioeconomic status. In some of these cases, the new technologies conflict with established beliefs, such as the personal values of simplicity and modest lifestyles. A number of examples of technophobic ideas can be found in multiple forms of art, ranging from literary works such as Frankenstein to films like Metropolis. Many of these works portray the darker side of technology as perceived by the technophobic. As technologies become increasingly complex and difficult to understand, people are more likely to harbor anxieties relating to their use of modern technologies.
A study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior was conducted between 1992 and 1994 surveying first-year college students across various countries. The overall percentage of the 3,392 students who responded with high-level technophobic fears was 29%. In comparison, Japan had 58% high-level technophobes, India had 82%, and Mexico had 53%.
A published report in 2000 stated that roughly 85 to 90 percent of new employees at an organization may be uncomfortable with new technology, and are technophobic to some degree.
Technophobia began to gain national and international attention as a movement with the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. With the development of new machines able to do the work of skilled craftsmen using unskilled, underpaid men, women, and children, those who worked a trade began to fear for their livelihoods. In 1675, a group of weavers destroyed machines that replaced their jobs. By 1727, the destruction had become so prevalent that Parliament made the demolition of machines a capital offense. This action, however, did not stop the tide of violence. The Luddites, a group of anti-technology workers, united under the name “Ludd” in March 1811, removing key components from knitting frames, raiding houses for supplies, and petitioning for trade rights while threatening greater violence. Poor harvests and food riots lent aid to their cause by creating a restless and agitated population for them to draw supporters from.
The 19th century was also the beginning of modern science, with the work of Louis Pasteur, Charles Darwin, Gregor Mendel, Michael Faraday, Henri Becquerel, and Marie Curie, and inventors such as Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. The world was changing rapidly, too rapidly for many, who feared the changes taking place and longed for a simpler time. The Romantic movement exemplified these feelings. Romantics tended to believe in imagination over reason, the “organic” over the mechanical, and a longing for a simpler, more pastoral times. Poets like William Wordsworth and William Blake believed that the technological changes that were taking place as a part of the industrial revolution were polluting their cherished view of nature as being perfect and pure.
After World War II, a fear of technology continued to grow, catalyzed by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With nuclear proliferation and the Cold War, people began to wonder what would become of the world now that humanity had the power to manipulate it to the point of destruction. Corporate production of war technologies such as napalm, explosives, and gases during the Vietnam War further undermined public confidence in technology's worth and purpose. In the post-WWII era, environmentalism also took off as a movement, and along with it, growing technophobia as the impacts of Moore's Law began to accelerate the rate of technological advancement.
As Web 3.0 technologies providing peer to peer services, implementing Capitalism 2.0 sharing economy concepts of 3D Printing, Uber/Lyft ridesharing, AirBnB apartment sharing, as well as the disruptive technologies in the NewSpace movement, Tesla Motor Company's direct sales of electric vehicles, and crypto-currency blockchains, individuals and groups that stand to lose economic privileges, typically statutory in nature, tend to launch revanchist campaigns of negative PR, vandalism, and legislative prohibitions that trigger legal challenges.
Several societal groups may be considered technophobic, most recognizable are the Luddites. Many technophobic groups revolt against modern technology because of their beliefs that these technologies are threatening their ways of life and livelihoods. The Luddites were a social movement of British artisans in the 19th century who organized in opposition to technological advances in the textile industry. These advances replaced many skilled textile artisans with comparatively unskilled machine operators. The 19th century British Luddites rejected new technologies that impacted the structure of their established trades, or the general nature of the work itself.
Resistance to new technologies did not occur when the newly adopted technology aided the work process without making significant changes to it. The British Luddites protested the application of the machines, rather than the invention of the machine itself. They argued that their labor was a crucial part of the economy, and considered the skills they possessed to complete their labor as property that needed protection from the destruction caused by the autonomy of machines.
Another group considered to be technophobic is the Amish. While many technophobic groups take a social stance against technology, the Amish are reluctant to use technology due to their religious beliefs, and fear that it will weaken the family structure. The Amish follow a set of moral codes outlined in the Ordnung, which rejects the use of certain forms of technology for personal use.
Modern technophobic groups include eco-terrorist groups like Earth Liberation Front, Animal Liberation Front, and EarthFirst!, who are documented to have engaged in acts of terrorism against genetic research labs, farms testing genetically modified organisms, as well as genetic engineering conferences. Individuals such as the Unabomber, Theodore Kazynski, have also engaged in terrorist acts motivated by technophobias, attacking university computer scientists and airline executives with crude mailed bombs. He only ended his reign of serial bombings when the mainstream media agreed to publish his manifesto, "[Society and It's Future]", which heavily figured his history as a subject of unethical psychiatric experiments as the turning point of his life from an upcoming mathematician into a paranoid and violent hermit.
ELF/ALF were identified as domestic terrorists by the FBI in 2001. They have been tied to a vast network of radical leftist and left anarchist groups and individuals, from Wobbly run reading rooms and book stores in many cities, who operate an underground railroad for fugitive leftists, to The Anarchist Organization, tao.ca, which operates worker cooperatives in Canadian cities along the northern tier of the United States, as well as recruiting members through the leftist activism boot camps run by the Ruckus Society that are funded by prominent wealthy elites like Bill McKibben, Gerry Mander, Kirkpatrick Sale, Jeremy Rifkin, George Soros, and Theresa Heinz-Kerry, (wife of US Secretary of State John Kerry), who all launder their money through the Tides Center and Tides Foundation to fund these movements.
Jeremy Rifkin began a career as a prominent Luddite lobbyist in Washington DC in the late 1970s, first against pesticides, then against genetic engineering. He has since expanded his technophobic lobbying and fundraising repertoire to include organizing opposition to nanotechnology, cryonics, and artificial intelligence.
Another example of technophobia in popular culture is the Anti-Vaccination movement, which opposes the administration of vaccines due to scientifically unfounded concerns that it contains poisous chemicals such as mercury or that it causes Autism.
Technophobia in arts
An early example of technophobia in fiction and popular culture is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. It has been a staple of science fiction ever since, exemplified by movies like Fritz Lang's Metropolis, which offer examples of how technophobia can occur, and Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times, in which people are reduced to nothing but cogs in the machinery, a product of new industrial techniques like the assembly line. This persisted through the 1950s, with the fears of nuclear weapons and radiation leading to giant insects of monster movies, as well as cautionary tales like The Day the Earth Stood Still, and into the 1960s, with the likes of The Hulk. It was joined by fears of superintelligent machines, and rebellion amongst them, which was a recurring theme of Star Trek, from the original series to Star Trek: The Next Generation to Star Trek: Voyager in the 1990s.
Also in the 1960s, the film Omega Man (loosely based on the Richard Matheson novel I am Legend) showed a world scarred by biological warfare and only a handful of humans and a cult of mutants remain alive. Charlton Heston's character is a scientist who is being targeted by the mutants who wish to destroy all science and machinery due to their technophobic beliefs. Technophobia is also thematic in Walter M. Miller's novel A Canticle for Leibowitz, in which nuclear war produces an attempt to stamp out science itself, which is held to be responsible.
In the 1970s, Colossus: The Forbin Project and Demon Seed also offered samples of domination by computers. Also in the 1970s, Rich Buckler created Deathlok, a cyborg revivified by a madman as a slave killing machine, a dark twist on Frankenstein.
Technophobia achieved commercial success in the 1980s with the movie The Terminator, in which a computer becomes self-aware, and decides to kill all humans. Blade Runner shows us how human replicas were able to live on Earth, portraying technology gone wrong in "replicants" unhappy with their man-made limitations which demand they be "modified". Star Trek: Voyager introduced another twist, when "surplus" EMHs, such sophisticated expert systems as to be almost indistinguishable from human, being effectively reduced to slavery, while other, similar systems were turned into sentient prey.
More recently there have been movies like I, Robot, The Matrix Trilogy, WALL-E, and the Terminator sequels. Shows such as Doctor Who - most specifically in the episode "Robots of Death" - have also tackled the issue of technophobia, with a character in "Robots of Death" displaying a great fear of robots due to their lack of body language, described by the Fourth Doctor as giving them the appearance of "dead men walking". Series consultant Kit Pedler also used this fear as a basis for the inspiration of classic Doctor Who monsters the Cybermen, with the creatures being inspired by his own fear of artificial limbs becoming so common that it would become impossible to know when someone had stopped being a man and become simply a machine. Virtuosity speaks of a virtual serial killer who manages to escape to the real world. He goes on a rampage before he is inevitably stopped. This is a true technophobic movie in that its main plot is about technology gone wrong. It introduces a killer who blatantly destroys people.
In the Pixar film WALL-E, humans are shown to have evolved into obese, docile, and lazy people as a result of robots being able to do everything for them.
Avatar is exemplary of technology’s tenacious hold on the humans who are empowered by it and visually demonstrates the amount of terror it instils upon those native to the concept. It enforces the eye-opening notion that foreign creatures from Pandora, not only frightened by technology, but it is something they loathe, for its potential to destruct could exceed their very existence. Ironically, the film used advanced technology that marvelled audiences such as the stereoscope in order to give viewers the illusion of physically taking part in a realistic experience that would introduce them to a civilization struggling with technophobia. The film demonstrates the double, contrasting perspective between humans thriving off technology and aliens committing themselves to not only repressing it, but fighting back against it. For such a technologically inclined director, James Cameron who helped transform and develop some of the digital equipment used in the film, he seems to have effectively presented the darker side of technology as perceived by the viewers.
Godfrey Reggio's Qatsi trilogy also deals heavily with issues of technophobia. The idea of keeping the "thinkers" and "workers" separate shows us that even the people who embraced technology feared the potential of it in some way.
In the PC game Wing Commander: Privateer, a fanatical quasi-religious group, called the Retros, wishes to overthrow all forms of technology, even if doing so, they themselves have to use it in order to fulfill their goal. They play a central role in the Righteous Fire expansion game, wherein a new mysterious leader leads the group in an attempt to destroy all non-adherents of their religion.
There is an Italian Electronic Black Metal band founded in 2003 called T3chn0ph0b1a, whose themes and lyrics are futuristic and based on a computerized world.
Since technology has become such a crucial element in the working field, many businesses provide hands on aid and support for those suffering from anxiety due to computer use, or those who classify themselves as technophobes. Articles providing employees with tips and mental processes to take part in are submitted to the web in order to address the issue and give helpful guidelines as to how one can go about feeling more comfortable around their phobia. Certain web action steps mentioned in an article on wholewebimpact.com are as follows: becoming curious, research and learn about technology, be prepared, don't freak out if something goes wrong, get help from experts, and relax.
- "Darwin among the Machines"
- List of phobias
- Minimalism in Philosophy
- Samuel Butler
- The Uncanny Valley
- The dictionary definition of technophobia at Wiktionary
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