The Luddites were 19th century textile workers who objected to the introduction of new machinery (with their accompanying lower paid workers) which would rob them of their livelihoods. What is remembered about them, I think, is that they smashed machinery. So when people use the term ‘Luddite’ today they forget the economic side of things and just concentrate on the technology. Thus ‘Luddite’ today popularly seems to mean someone who fears technology and wants things to stay the same.
Now even though I personally don’t use Facebook and irregularly follow Twitter and stumble my way through Linked-in when someone sends me a message, I don’t regard myself as a Luddite. I don’t fear the technology – bring it on – the inventions and things that are being designed and made are really quite amazing. However I am concerned about the people who use it.
The internet, telecommunications, and social media have changed the world. News is seconds away from instantaneous and viewed globally. People can be living in third world conditions but now with mobile phone coverage. (I still remember the strangeness of seeing Chinese women porters on the rice fields all going for their mobile phones when one rang.) Far from being direct communication one on one, what has emerged are platforms or soapboxes around which ‘tribes’ gather – for good or for ill.
It is the ‘ill’ that bothers me. Cyber bullying is a serious matter – all bullying is – but this type continues when you’re away from the environment (school or work place) where it previously happened. Lord McAlpine was falsely accused of a shocking crime (is it regarded as the worst these days?) and that is bad enough but then about 10,000(!) tweeters got in on the act! (I am interested in how his court case will go against them all.) While the technology informs and communicates at greater speeds, the ability to broadcast to more people than one might gather to hear you on a soapbox in the park plus the ability to do so with some anonymity simply allows the mask or manners we wear when talking with people face to face to drop away – not a pretty sight often.
I think it is good that people are reminded that emails are public documents, that you really can’t hide in the internet, and tweeting is akin to publishing (on a very small printing press). I think it should be mandatory that their operating instructions come with a sticker and pamphlet on the 8th Commandment – You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. The practicalities here are worth considering. When Luther wrote the Large Catechism the issues then were false evidence in law courts and the need for honest judges and witnesses. He even included misusing God’s Word. But his longest section was about the ‘sins of the tongue’ – slander, judgements that go with it, not having evidence, and gossip. He talked about people with authority (parent, prince, pastor) as those who should say ‘bad things’ about other people – and he emphasised being charitable towards people, speaking well of them and defending their (good) name. His 16th century world and our 21st century world have similarities but there are also big differences too. So what are the 21st century ways whereby we ‘fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbour, betray him, slander him or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way’ (Luther’s Small Catechism)? –GS