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Luddites of the 21St Century Unite? (Revisited)

In the winter of 2014 I wrote a blogpost under the title ‘Luddites of the 21st century unite?’ (read here). In the post I wondered where the 21st century Luddites were. ICT, automation, artificial intelligence all threatened jobs, yet all those affected embraced smartphones and the Internet in droves. It seems I found them, but what to do?

Brexit and Luddites

Fast forward to early summer 2016. Brexit is a fact and the world is in confusion, including the Brexit leaders, as my strong suspicion is they never wanted to win, just keep on clamouring. That aside, I have found my 21st century Luddites among the Brexit voters, all the people hoping to have similar referenda in other EU countries and potential Trump voters in the U.S. The people who feel left behind, replaced by foreigners and with little alternative to the jobs lost when mills and mines closed.

1830 and Luddites

In 1830 people lived in small worlds. Unconnected, with little view on the world beyond the next village or market town, let alone on high politics in the capitol. Threats by steam engines, trains and factories were very direct and there was little room for influence. There was no vote, so all that remained was violence towards the landlord, the machines or both. Not so different from present day looting.

Jobs of the past?

In 2016 the same sort of threats become apparent. All sorts of jobs are disappearing and with developments going as they are, more will disappear. Taxi drivers, truck drivers, secretaries, bank employees, caissières, etc., etc. are all up for being let off. As I already pointed to recently, of children now in schools, 65% will be in jobs that do not exist presently.

Access to information

In 2016 people are able to have views, vote, inform themselves, but strangely enough the more access parts of the public has towards information, the more it focus on its own segment, on what it knows, believes. There is less discourse, just coarseness it seems.

Jobs of the future?

In past two centuries new job opportunities opened themselves each and every time. From farmhands, to factories and from rural areas to cities. From factory into services. From services to ?? Entertainment? Pasttime? We do not really know yet. ICT (security) needs millions of people soon, so I’m reading for a few years. So, from services to ICT? As I wrote recently, then education needs to speed up with the relevant curricula, while industry better be very specific of its needs, so that people can be (re-)trained for that shift in jobs.

History and ICT

Another point which I think becomes more and more important is teaching history. People need to know where they come from to better understand where they are now and where they are (most likely) going. No matter the economic slumps in the past 8 years, on average people in the country where I come from and those around me, never had it this good. This depression in no way relates to the one in the 1930s. Yet dissatisfaction is so huge. Disappointment and anger are all around. Teaching history can do something about that. With ICT in classrooms history can be presented in all sorts of modern ways, making it extremely interesting to look at and learn from. There’s no need to leave history to the National Geographic Channel or Discovery.


So again, education is what this world needs. More than ever, I’d say, to make sure that as many people as possible move into the next quarter of the 21st century well prepared for the tasks at hand. Only that way society will make the shift into the Digital Age with all on board, in jobs, leading fulfilling lives.

And now forward

At this point too many people live in fear of globalisation, the Internet, immigration, while this, at least in theory, but often in practice leads to wealthier lives. I ended the previous post on Luddites that it is important to stop fear. This has not changed since 2014. Ending fear starts with leaders. And now I see a challenge. Many leaders lead in fear, not in sound views on the way forward, with explanations and alternatives. Having won the fear battle, they step down as fast as they can. People need alternatives and ICT can offer that. Start making work of it. And, by the way. Who’s stopping industry from leading the pack on educational reforms? We could all benefit.

By Wout de Natris, Consultant internet governance

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