"A man ain't nothin' but a man,
And before I let that that steam drill shall beat me down,
I'll die with my hammer in my hand."
According to folklore, sometime in the late 18th century or early 19th century, a man named Ned Ludd broke into a factory and destroyed two machines. A movement to oppose the industrial revolution was named after him, spear-headed by those who saw their jobs being done more efficiently by new machinery. They claimed that inventions such as the Spinning Jenny would lead to mass unemployment, since where would the spinners go? The propaganda at the time would have you believe that the Luddites failed to understand, or were simply too poor to take advantage of, the fact that increased efficiency in Part A of the economy leads to increased economic activity — and therefore theoretically more jobs — in other parts of the economy, who now can buy cheaper machine-made products from Part A and therefore can spend the saved money elsewhere.
It's worth noting, however, that this excuse didn't apply in late 18th/early 19th century Britain, which saw the unqualified under-classes in rural areas almost entirely dependent on the manual labour provided by the mills due to the agricultural industry having mostly moved off-shore. Moreover the phenomenon outlined above is typical of capitalist economics and as such relies on such a system already being in place, while at the time of the industrial revolution the country was still in transition between mercantilism and early industrial capitalism. This lead to a full scale rebellion in the region around Nottingham that lasted from 1811 to 1816 due to the impending mass starvation from the extreme drop in job availability. The rebellion was ended by force from the government and the Luddites were executed or sent to the colonies. Meanwhile the factory owners had spent the rebellion whipping up propaganda demonizing the Luddites and attempting to make them look as unreasonable as possible, the results of which you can see in the first paragraph above.
Movements like this generally gained less traction in the United States as the Industrial Revolution coincided with one of the periods of westward expansion, giving the laid off workers somewhere to go, but that leads into a whole different discussion about Manifest Destiny.
Sometimes, a work will portray a Luddism (or an obvious or flanderized stand-in for it) as having been right all along — in other words, Science Is Bad on a societal or even global scale. This can take many forms, including but not limited to the following:
- If a community that traditionally has made everything painstakingly by hand switches to robots, magic, machines, etc. to make goods, expect trouble. The goods produced may turn out to be unusable, or the robots, machines, etc. will become dangerous and turn on their creators.
- If a society used to having everything done with magic, technology or the like is compared to another society which does everything in the the old-fashioned way, the more advanced society will be portrayed as a Dystopia of some kind.
A common end result is that the tech/magic-reliant society will be forced to return to the old ways, with An Aesop about the value of tender loving care.
Ironically, an actual economic problem will result from the hordes of people who have no jobs and will no longer have the power to purchase the goods produced; it is called a consumption crash. But despite being an obvious argument in favor of Luddism, for some reason it's seldom brought up in these scenarios. As has been pointed out, this was the driving factor behind real-life Luddism — less about a dogmatic anti-progress stance, and more about simply not wanting to starve to death.
Very often, this trope is reliant on the Appeal to Tradition and Appeal to Nature fallacies. See also Artistic License – Economics, Green Aesop. May be the (sinful) Discipline in Harmony Versus Discipline. May be enforced by Status Quo Is God (and in extreme cases, a Reset Button). Compare Industrialized Evil, where evil itself uses the scientific method and/or efficient methods of "production" (not necessarily machines, but that's popular too) and Technophobia, a mild version of this trope, mostly a Sub-Trope. Contrast Evil Luddite, for when being against technology is portrayed in a negative light.
Subtrope of Good Old Ways.
- Change is bad. The Hershey bar, unchanged since 1899.
- Son of the White Horse: The heroes of the film represent the deities of old tradition and mythology, of natural phenomena like stars, seasons, daily cycles, lunar cycles and weather. The evil dragons opposing them symbolize technological progress: the stone age, modern warfare, shackling chains and a computerized, smog-emitting metropolis. The characters and events become constellations on the clear sky, to remind us of old values and lessons, but the pollution of technology and urbanization threatens to obscure the stars and thus our traditions. The director even said that the movie's most important part to him was the credits, during which the titular Son's spirit strides across a modern, America-style city as smog gradually engulfs him.
- Somewhat the case in The Secret of NIMH. The rats of Nimh angst over their dependence on electricity, as they must steal it from the nearby farm. It's not that they don't like technology or advancement, but jacking into the human-made power grid is a dangerously conspicuous activity for hyper-intelligent rodents on the run from the government. That, and they are starting to develop a kind of cultural ennui as they develop human-like morals and higher reasoning, as they realise that being so gifted but living entirely off the back of another species' technology is robbing them of their self-worth.
- Although Hayao Miyazaki is famous for his environmentalist themes, Future Boy Conan tends more toward classic Luddism. The empire of Industria aren't polluting the Earth (they're actually recycling salvaged materials), but their way of life is still held as morally inferior to that of the agricultural paradise of High Harbor. Monsley's Heel–Face Turn is capped off with a speech about how the Industrians have "locked themselves in a prison of steel and plastic". Dr. Lao outright states that the Triangle Tower's self-sustained artificial environment, even when working as-intended on clean solar power, is foolish for separating man from nature and inexorably linked to the weapons that caused an apocalypse. After the scientist who were operating the tower evacuate its residents to High Harbor, they all kill themselves, the obvious implication they have no place in society.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: Saiou was confused by the concept of a Duel Disk, claiming he used "more primeval methods". (As in, mysticism.) He caught on fast, though.
- Calvin and Hobbes: Calvin's father seems to openly hate modern technology (or modern for the time), preferring more old fashioned approaches, and enforcing it on the rest of the family. When Mom states that she wants to get an answering machine, he refuses; when Calvin expresses his desire to get an internet connection, Dad tells him that having a TV and a phone in the house is bad enough. It's also his explanation for why he refuses to get cable TV or a VCR. He also prefers the old, rickety, wooden escalators over the sleek metallic ones, despite recounting in great detail how they were less efficient as they "had more personality." He doesn't like the wide variety offered among products in the modern era either, having been kicked out of the supermarket after throwing a fit when trying to decide on peanut butter. This tendency drives Calvin crazy as he, unlike his father, embraces current technology.
- Star Trek: Unlike the other series, Star Trek: Insurrection has a Luddite aesop, where a peaceful and agrarian Space Amish race that swore off advanced technology is victimized by corrupt Federation officials who want to study how to replicate the natural phenomenon that grants them eternal life and youth, though Picard did not start pulling rank until he realized that the villains are planning to destroy the phenomenon too. This is pretty strange, considering that Gene Roddenberry's original vision of the series was to promote the benefits and promise that technology could bring. Of course, they'd gone different directions by then, after he died, starting in Deep Space Nine — even that show portrayed Luddites as villains though.
- Emberverse: Most characters seem perfectly happy being thrown back into a pre-industrial state. A mysterious force disables all electricity, gunpowder, and steam power. This results in most of humanity dying from starvation and the survivors reverting to agrarian communities. Although a few can be heard pining for modern conveniences (most commonly deodorant and birth control), more often than not you'll hear them say how much happier they are and that this was the way humans were meant to live. Of course, it must be pointed out that those who survived tended to be Renn Faire patrons, ranchers, history professors, survivalists, and the Society for Creative Anachronism. There's also the fact that pining miserably for the lost world is not good for one's mental health.
- Married... with Children: In one episode, after Al's barber dies, he refuses to get his hair cut until he can find another one (which he has a hard time doing) because he doesn't trust hairdressers, claiming they're needlessly expensive (as opposed to his barber, who only charges five bucks) among other things. (To be fair, the ones shown in this episode didn't miss a single stereotype associated with them.) When called old-fashioned because of this, he rants about how time has replaced several things he used to like, such as how video games replaced pinball.
- Call of Duty: Black Ops II: By 2025, the drive to digitization and automation has led to an America increasingly dependent on drone armies. Although no one had apparently bothered to figure out what would happen if someone stole the keys which Menendez does. In fact, one of the major points in the game is that even in an electronic, interconnected society, there would always be a need for men like Woods or Mason to do the work nobody else would.
- Deus Ex: Human Revolution has anti-augmentation movement that opposes Sarif Industries, a company trying to introduce bionic implants. Some protesters fear that such advanced technology might be a cause of unemployment while others are afraid of possible control bionic companies might have over the augmented people. The latter is the main motivation of Hugh Darrow, a Well-Intentioned Extremist who thinks his inventions in the field of medicine and bionics have been corrupted by the powermongers. And if you interrogate him you realize that he was resentful that he was still crippled because he couldn't be implanted with his own research. The game as a whole is ambivalent though, highlighting both the danger and the potential of augmentation.
- Hammerin' Harry: The villains are modern construction workers and the company they work for. The hero is a traditional Japanese carpenter. The heroine/love interest/frequent Damsel in Distress is the heir to the company that employs him.
- Metal Gear Solid has characters frequently put down the soldiers who were trained in VR simulations instead of live exercises, and all the characters who were trained this way are portrayed as incompetent until we see them get real experience (such as the Genome soldiers and Meryl in Metal Gear Solid, and Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty). Sons of Liberty used this to make Anvilicious swipes at gaming fans more than anything (particularly railing on gamers who think they're experts in some field as a result of extensive video gaming -- including combat), but came up with an odd Fantastic Aesop in "Snake Tale E: External Gazer" — Snake's VR machine destroys other universes to function and therefore should never be used. It gets weird when the games hammer home how VR simulations are as realistic as the real thing, and more customizable to actual combat situations.
- Don't Hug Me I'm Scared has this as a minor theme:
- In 2, all the puppets become complacent and indifferent to life, instead getting distracted by, and wasting their time on, the computer, or complaining about missing their programme.
Yellow Guy: "An old man died!"
Tony the Talking Clock: "But look, a computer!"
- This theme is expanded upon in the fourth installment, where the focus is a singing computer who, at first, seems really helpful, touting how much knowledge he has and all the things he can do. However, he then starts asking the puppets extremely personal questions, such as what their blood type is and the color of their hair. Later on, once the puppets are in the digital world, they can only do three things: look at stuff, try on clothes, and dance aimlessly. They do this again and again, seemingly forever, until Red decides to quit the whole thing.
- This comes up again in the final video. It turns out all the strange Teachers that accosted the puppets were created by a large computer, and the series concludes with Red Guy attempting to shut it off.
- In 2, all the puppets become complacent and indifferent to life, instead getting distracted by, and wasting their time on, the computer, or complaining about missing their programme.
- In Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends: Mr. Harriman is dressed decades out of style and really hates technology. Of course, being Ms. Foster's imaginary friend, he's been around a very long time, having been "born" when she was a child, and is more accustomed to the old ways.
- The Amish tend to avoid certain forms of modern technology in the belief that doing so will damage their way of life, particularly if it connects them to "the world".
- Metropolis (2001): The underground rebellion is motivated by human workers being displaced by robots.
- Judge Dredd: Alluded to. The senior judges and tech division have attempted to introduce AI-controlled robotic judges several times to complement the over-stretched judges. This is always to the immense disapproval of the titular Judge Dredd. So far, every time this has been done has turned out to be a dangerous disaster, proving Dredd right.
- In The Smurfs comic book story "You Don't Smurf Progress", Handy creates machines for his fellow Smurfs Baker, Miller, and Carpenter that take manual labor out of food production and furniture making. However, as life in the Smurf Village becomes further automated by machines, Handy creates a bunch of wooden robots that would do all the jobs in the village for the Smurfs, allowing themselves to luxuriate and to treat the machines with disdain. One of the robots eventually gains sentience through magic, which leads to the robots turning against their masters and forcing the Smurfs to work for them until Handy creates a robot filled with termites that destroys the robots, eventually restoring the village to normal and getting the Smurfs back to doing manual labor again.
- Calvin and Hobbes: Half-used, half-parodied in this strip. Calvin's dad claims that the increased productivity from better technology leads to people being expected to work faster and harder, so it isn't necessarily a good thing.
"If we wanted more leisure, we'd invent machines that do things less efficiently."
Film — Animated
- WALL•E: Played with. Having robots and technology do everything for them causes the humans on the Axiom to become grotesquely fat and incredibly lazy, and leads to seven hundred years of stagnation and boredom for their entire society. The fate of Earth itself could also be an example. On the other hand, some of the robots (including our protagonist) are likable characters. In the end, the trope is subverted when humans and robots learn to work together to restore Earth — showing that technology can be a force for good, but has to be used in a balanced way (rather than in a society centered entirely on a Fictional Counterpart of Walmart).
- Wizards: The good wizard Avatar uses magic, while the evil wizard Blackwolf uses technology. Averted at the end when Avatar pulls out a gun and shoots Blackwolf.
Film — Live-Action
- In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the employees of the toothpaste factory are replaced by a machine to put caps on tubes — this results in Charlie's father being laid off. Interestingly, he ends up being hired back to repair and maintain the same machine.
- I, Robot: Discussed, as Detective Spooner suggests a new commercial to the CEO of U.S. Robots, where a carpenter painstakingly makes a beautiful chair, followed by a robot making an identical chair twice as fast with the words "U.S. Robots, shitting on the little guy". The CEO brushes him off, wondering if Spooner's father lost his job to a robot and pointing out that there will always be people who automatically reject progress. Of course, the Big Bad of the film turns out to be VIKI, attempting to protect humanity from itself through the Zeroth Law Rebellion. All the other robots want nothing more than to be helpful to humans. Spooner tries to explain to Sonny that while the robot might copy the design faster, a human needed to create it in the first place.
Spooner: Can a robot write a symphony or paint a masterpiece?"
Sonny: Can you?
- RoboCop (1987): Played with. Although one cop wonders if Robo was built to replace them, the trope is ultimately averted with the cops accepting him as an asset on their side, such as being a big tough trooper who can safely draw criminals' fire while his regular comrades can maneuver for position to flank them. However, his effectiveness as a cop is implied to be a result of his human side, not machine, as this is how he is able to avoid simply following corrupt orders, resist Directive 4, and ultimately rebel against OCP outright. Further, each game demonstrates attempts to make other cybernetic enforcers (most being all machine), and how they've all Gone Horribly Wrong except for our hero.
- Santa Claus Conquers the Martians has Santa Claus "making" toys by pushing buttons. Later, the villains sabotage the machine, causing Santa to finally denounce the process.
- Santa Claus: The Movie: The elf Patch makes a toy assembly line to speed up production, but things go awry and the toys produced fall apart at the slightest provocation. The simple solution would be having someone inside the machine to watch for errors; the real problem is the poor design rather the assembly line itself — not that the writers thought of that.
- Spectre: Discussed and justified. The head of the British Government's Centre for National Surveillance, "C", believes that digital surveillance has made the "00" programme obsolete. Later on, the suspicions of 007 and M towards C are proven right, when it turns out that C is a Spectre operative and that the Centre for National Surveillance system is really a trojan horse for world domination.
- Arrivals from the Dark: This forms one of the opposing viewpoints in Envoy from the Heavens. In this setting, humanity is determined to technologically uplift any primitive race it finds, although the Foundation set up for the task subscribes to a strict set of guidelines that, for example, prohibits influencing a post-Medieval culture. The Foundation's operatives typically infiltrate the local culture and try to introduce certain ideas and/or inventions that are supposed to help jump-start the next stage of development. However, these methods appear to utterly fail on the planet of Osier, which has been stuck in Medieval Stasis for over a millennium. Eventually, the protagonist finds out that part of the reason is the inherent stability of the local political system. The other part is the presence of agents of a previously-unknown advanced alien race, who subscribe to the Alien Non-Interference Clause and believe that each race must progress at its own pace in order to maintain stability. While these aliens don't reject technology (after all, they're a star-faring race themselves), they don't believe that they (or anyone) have a right to impose their technology on anyone else.
- Devolution: Partially justified. The characters' overreliance on technology means that nobody has any idea what to do when the volcano erupts, but also the techbro Dan abruptly turns out to be infinitely happier (and to a lesser extent, so does the corporate Kate) even when they're thrust into a hellish nightmare where they have to defend each other and live off the grid.
- Dune: "Thou shalt not make a machine in imitation of the human mind" — The Orange Catholic Bible. It's loosely explained in the original books that robots with artificial intelligence once enslaves humanity, until they revolted and destroyed them. Hence all "thinking machines" are banned. The subsequent books by Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert would show how all this happened (however many fans don't like them).
- Isaac Asimov's Spacer and Settler books have Spacer society becoming lazy and decadent because everything is done by robots. In particular, the three laws mean robots cannot allow humans to ever risk any harm, so it's not just a lack of work that is the problem, but boredom from a complete lack of any risk or excitement for their entire lives. Of course, given that the Settlers still use a lot of other advanced technologies including FTL space travel, Asimov clearly didn't want to portray all technology as bad, he was just portraying one possible outcome when technology replacing human labour is taken to extremes. Also somewhat subverted in the Foundation series, set thousands of years later in the same universe, where it is discovered that at least one Spacer world is still populated. While their society doesn't seem too nice from the point of view of modern humans (or the protagonists for that matter), it's clearly not doomed and is not necessarily portrayed as wrong, just very, very different.
- The Lord of the Rings:
- Saruman starts out as a Well-Intentioned Extremist who thinks that his rule will be good for the world and uses both magic and technology as means of gaining power. He later industrializes the Shire (through his puppet Lotho) as a petty jab at the hobbits. Strictly speaking, however, Saruman wasn't trying to industrialize the Shire. He was specifically trying to destroy it. Lotho began the industrialization process before Saruman showed up on the scene, and while its effects weren't beneficial, they weren't terrible either; it was when Saruman arrived and took over that he switched from "build more and better machines" to "knock down buildings, cut down trees, pour filth on everything just for the hell of it". As one of the hobbits who lived through it remarks, Lotho's machines didn't really improve matters, but "since Sharkey arrived it's been plain ruination".
- Word of God, though, is that the perils of industrialization and the destruction of beauty is the one theme which Mr. Tolkien will admit to.
- In Man After Man: An Anthropology of the Future, the "memory people" have perfect recall of their human ancestors' technology but refuse to use it because they also remember how human civilization collapsed and nearly took the planet down with it. Ironically, their Luddite attitude means they don't even consider recreating humanity's sustainable technologies, even though their own descendants would share the very same memories to warn them away from untenable courses of development.
- The Stand, Stephen King's Shout-Out to Lord of the Rings. In at least one Author Filibuster, the characters (mainly Cool Old Guy Glen Bateman) have plenty of time to discuss this issue after a plague wipes out most of humanity and conclude (after more bad stuff happens) that trying to rebuild the old government and society that engineered the plague would be a mistake. Since the old ways of American materialistic society were "a death trip", they follow the prophecies of a wise woman to cross the mountains on foot, carrying nothing, to face the demonic enemy leader in Las Vegas.
- Battlestar Galactica (2003): The finale veers in this direction. Veers? They abandoned their technology entirely to become hunter-gatherers... and then died!
- The Kids in the Hall: Parodied in one episode, in which a group of laborers who work all day at holding their arms in a sink full of fish guts are replaced by a machine full of mannequin hands which can do the same job. When the manager insists this is the way of technology, the laborers point out that the manager can be replaced by a machine too. Then he starts stuttering and falling apart because he's a robot.
- Monk: "Mr. Monk and the Really, Really Dead Guy" intentionally invokes the story of John Henry in regards to Adrian Monk vs. the technologically supplied FBI agents. However, given how over the top the FBI acts, it's likely this was more of a parody of modern crime dramas, such as CSI. In the end, the escaping bad guy is caught thanks to a high-tec hand-held device... that the chief threw at him.
- Revolution: Played with. A worldwide blackout occurs and stays in effect for 15 years. This results in a number of factions being formed, such as the Monroe Republic, which apparently has to do everything the old-fashioned way. However, "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" reveals that the Georgia Federation has harnessed the power of steam and seems to have become more prosperous than the Monroe Republic. It also turns out in "The Song Remains the Same" that nanomachines caused the blackout to occur, but there are benefits they can provide, such as curing cancer and fixing broken legs ("The Longest Day"). Interestingly enough, a number of characters actually think that the blackout makes the world a better place, but they are revealed to be deluded and insane. One example would be in "Children of Men" when Aaron Pittman tries to explain to Dan Jenkins that if the power is not turned back on, then they could die from slight injuries becoming infect, and Jenkins just blows him off. Overall, the show seems to prove that despite the potential abuse of technology, the world would not be a better place without it.
- Star Trek: The Original Series:
- The farmer/researchers in "This Side of Paradise" — although their contentment with being isolated and living with minimal technology seems to stem as much from the spores as from anything else.
- In the episode "The Ultimate Computer", a new computer has been developed that can control an entire starship by itself, making crews and captains obsolete. For the entire episode, Kirk, Bones and at one point (briefly) even Spock make speeches about how terrible it is that people will be replaced by machines, how the computer will take something of what it is to be a "man" away from humanity, how computers just can't do the job with the same "heart" as people, etc. Bones evokes the trope explicitly at one point, noting how hard it is to lose one's job to automation. Of course, just to drive the point home, it turns out that A.I. Is a Crapshoot, and the computer's designer was insane, to boot. Which of course proves that Ludd Was Right... even though it's made clear that if the designer was more psychologically stable, the computer might have worked just fine.
- One of the points of the Styx song "Mr. Roboto", from their rock opera Kilroy Was Here:
The problem's plain to see
Too much technology
Machines to save our lives
- R.U.R. (which coined the word "robot") has it that, after robots start doing all the work, people become hedonists and women no longer have children.
- Detroit: Become Human: Androids and automation have driven over 30% of the population into unemployment, taking over industries such as music, writing, art, and even detective work.
- Final Fantasy X: The Yevonites blame the existence of the Big Bad who has been ravaging the world for a thousand years on technology. The old civilization had highly advanced technology and magic to the point where manual labor seems to have been eliminated, but the destruction has reduced most of the world to a pretty primitive state although with a lot of Lost Technology going around. They claim the old ways of relying on machina (machines) made mankind so lazy that the big bad was sent in as divine punishment, and gave the creature the name Sin. Nobody seems to be worried about relying too much on magic, though, or about the fact that their capital city has a giant high tech sport stadium.
In fact, it turns out the Yevonites are really just devoted to keeping the world in an eternally unchanging cycle; they reserve the use of machines for themselves, Sin cannot be permanently destroyed by the method used to defeat it, and technology really has nothing to do with the origin of Sin itself. In other words, they're keeping all the goodies to themselves and convincing everyone else that it's bad to try to change things just so they can stay in charge. Once Sin is destroyed for good and the Church as it stands is broken, X-2 shows us an evolving Spira — machina is wider-spread, and the two factions currently competing over Spira's future are torn between "gradual introduction of machines" (New Yevon) and "full release of all machina as they're found" (Youth League).
- Steambot Chronicles: This thinking is eventually revealed to be the motivation behind the Bloody Mantis, something of a mafia . Oddly, only if you don't join them. The overall theme of the game is an inversion, however, and there are multiple sidequests to bring technology to areas that haven't been industrialized yet.
- Doctor Steel's idea of a perfect world is where everything un-fun is done with automatons. He has already attempted the creation of a robot band, but things went horribly wrong.
- Strawberry Shortcake: In one episode, Lemon Meringue gets a Salon-o-matic that styles hair and gives perfect manicures and pedicures. Unfortunately, this puts her out of a job, and while she tries to find a new calling in Berry Bitty City, she soon feels the need to leave. Though her friends try to convince her to stay, it isn't until Strawberry Shortcake points out that the Salon-o-matic doesn't have the human touch that she decides to stay (and send back the offending machine). Amusingly, as Strawberry adds that she sent back the Wonder Waffler that she ordered from the same magazine Lemon got her Salon-o-matic for being too perfect, Blueberry Muffin worries that this means she'll have to send back her Clean-o-matic, also from the same magazine.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000", the Flim-Flam Brothers produce a machine that can produce apple cider at least thrice as fast as the Apple Family. However, this trope is subverted, as their Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000 actually has a quality control mechanism that causes their robotic apple cider to taste as good as homemade apple cider. In the end, the machine is defeated not because it was genuinely inferior to the natural way, but because its creators, both greedy con-ponies, acted in desperation to prove their superiority to the Apple Family, completely sidestepping the issue presented.
- In real life, new technology frequently makes old jobs obsolete — in the 1800s, 70% of the population was involved in agriculture. In the 21st century, only 1% of the population was involved in agriculture. However, what actually ends up happening is new jobs appear in greater numbers than the ones replaced, because the overall rise in productivity means that people can produce even more stuff, and more importantly, afford more stuff. The net result is that even though each person produces more stuff, they have more ability to buy more stuff as well, meaning that more people are needed to make more things for each person.
- Nonetheless, there are numerous challenges to that notion. One such argument is detailed in The Lights in the Tunnel, a free ebook by Martin Ford, available at http://www.thelightsinthetunnel.com/.
- C.G.P.Grey posted a YouTube video, "Humans Need Not Apply", which theorizes that much of the human workforce will be made unemployable by robots, in the same way the horse was made unemployable by the motor vehicle.
- Two articles from The Economist, "The third great wave", and "Wealth without workers, workers without wealth", have observed that the digital boom could be far more disruptive to labor markets than the two Industrial Revolutions were.
- This report published by the Gartner Group.
- The technologist Jaron Lanier has written that the Internet has destroyed the American middle class.
- One article has a variation of the argument: that it's not robots stealing jobs, but the corporate monopolies that majority-own the robots.
- Subverted with the advent of drum machines. When the Linn LM-1 first came out in the early 1980s, it was initially feared that it would put every session drummer in Los Angeles out of work, with a number of them purchasing it to offer 'drum programming services'. Such fears proved unfounded, as drum machines became a complement to session drummers, instead of a competitor. Additionally, the LM-1 quickly became outdated as competitors entered the market, and electronic drum kits that could be played like acoustic kits were developed.
- Another musical example being this ill-fated ad campaign in the 1930s by the American Federation of Musicians protesting the use of recorded music in theatres, having you believe this trope is true. Played straight in that recorded music has taken over in this setting and that many musicians struggle to make a living, whilst cynics claim the industry reaps all the rewards; subverted in that recording has not taken away the enjoyment of live music altogether, and the fact that many modern commentators basically see it as the dying throes of a doomed industry, with parallels to more modern developments.
- More recently, Elton John remarked, "I do think it would be an incredible experiment to shut down the whole internet for five years and see what sort of art is produced over that span." Surprisingly for a musician, he wasn't necessarily referring to online piracy, but more that he felt that the Internet was making people emotionally detached and over-reliant on technology, and that it allowed Dreadful Musicians to flood the market with poorly produced material.
- Long-time UAW president Walter Reuther anecdotally had the following conversation with a Ford company manager in the 1950s:
Ford manager: Walter, how are you going to get those robots to pay your union dues?
Walter Reuther: How are you going to get them to buy your cars?
- This is the central argument behind Marx's (and in the 21st century, Piketty's) argument in The Capital. Technology can be bought with money, which enhances both the returns to capital and the bargaining power of the capital relative to the labor. More money, therefore, begets more money as the diminishing returns to capital are delayed in presence of superior production technology. The resulting inequality in wealth subverts the basis of free markets and capitalism as well as the political bases of democratic rule. However, in the long run Marx was in favor of technology being used to replace menial labor, if the people otherwise displaced were taken care of (which he thought would happen by establishing communism). They would then be freed up to do what they wanted and have more leisure time, although the details were left vague.
- Fantasia: In The Sorcerer's Apprentice, the magical "robot" broom Mickey made to do his chores for him turns out to be uncontrollable.
- In The Chronicles of Prydain, it's mentioned that this is one of the good things that comes of Arawn stealing and later destroying, when his lair collapses upon his death all of the magic tools in the land that could operate themselves. It makes sense, given a running theme in the series that magic is not a short, easy solution to problems. It's explained that people have learned how to craft and farm and make music by themselves, and therefore actually are better off than if they sat back and let the instruments do it for them.
- In Codex Alera, the Alerans have become so dependent on magic that they have abandoned most technology as inferior. Alera is on the brink of destruction when Bernard (at his nephew's request) rebuilds an ancient device that, combined with Aleran magic, becomes the most potent weapon in existence. The device? A catapult.
- In the Inheritance Cycle, Nasuada is faced with trying to fund the Varden which she has no idea how to go about doing, until she realizes after damaging her dress that the creation of lace, while time consuming, is not actually hard to produce energy wise, and so has the magicians of the Varden set to work magically creating lace and selling it for less than anyone else, causing massive waves in the textile industries of both the Varden's host country of Surda and the Broddring Empire.
- In general, magic is never used for manual labor, since it's erratic and unpredictable and always demands a payment of some sort. At least one book even notes that it requires the same amount of raw magical energies as it would require of physical energy to do anything, so it's generally safer to just do it by hand. Add in that magic has a tendency to drive careless practitioners into destructively aggressive behavior, and it's generally considered the wisest thing to do is to find people who have an affinity for magic and firmly teach them to never use magic.
- Making Money: This is invoked by economist Hubert Turvy to explain why using the newly found four thousand golems would be a bad idea. Unlike most examples on this page, however, he actually has a point: Introducing this much free labor into the labor pool actually would crash the economy. It'd be like the Industrialization in Europe during the late 19th century, only in fast forward. Pratchett, being a Brit himself, was probably quite aware of this.
"Think of what they could do for the city!" said Mr. Cowslick of the Artificer's Guild.
"Well, yes. To begin with, they would put one hundred and twenty thousand men out of work," said Hubert, "but that would be only the start. They do not require food, clothing, or shelter... the demand for many things would drop and further unemployment would result..."
- A Hat Full of Sky: Hiver-Tiffany makes cheese using magic. The next day it's shown to be melting away and attracting flies, and to be generally unfit for consumption.
- Heralds of Valdemar: The amoral Eastern Empire does everything by magic and has progressed into Magitek, while Valdemar remains in Medieval Stasis with some slight progress towards steam technology. When the Mage Storms make magic unreliable, Valdemar does far better than the Empire.
- City of Villains: One enemy faction, the Luddites, claims that the large power plant is pure evil and Dr. Aeon is using demonic powers to fuel the great Aeon City. You can later learn that they're right on both counts. Oops. Of course, you're a villain, so it's not like you actually care.
- The Smurfs: In one episode, Brainy enchants a needle to sew clothing faster than Tailor Smurf. But the clothing is cheap and even Baby Smurf can detect the lack of tender loving care sewn into his diapers. To finally drop the Anvil, attempts to disable the magic needle turn it evil, and it attacks the villagers.
- SpongeBob SquarePants: In "Neptune's Spatula", SpongeBob is challenged by Neptune to a cook-off to see if he is worthy of wielding the Golden Spatula. Neptune uses his powers and easily makes more Krabby Patties than Spongebob (who only made one), but SpongeBob's cooking is found to be far superior. Neptune's final line drives the point home: "Perfect patties are made with love, not magic".
Anime & Manga
- Blue Gender posits that civilization (i.e. pretty much everything after the introduction of agriculture and the wheel) is against Man's true harmony, and blames humanity and technology for the rise of the Blue, which was created to restore the natural world. Of course, this is done by showing how depraved and screwed-up life on the technologically advanced Second Earth is compared to those who "embrace" nature.
- Earth Maiden Arjuna: Downplayed, as quite a bit of technology is used for human gain at the expense of the environment, but modern civilization as a whole is not shown as being evil, and the Big Bad Chris is an Evil Luddite who's Evil Plan to use the Raaja to destroy modern Japanese civilization is shown to be exactly as harmful and dangerous as would logically be expected.
- Gundam: Reconguista in G: After the horrific period of warfare that was the Universal Century, the surviving humans blamed all the problems of that era on advanced technology, and instituted the Ag-Tech Taboo: a religious prohibition on developing certain kinds of advanced technology. The plot's conflict happens when a few power-hungry folks decide to break the Taboo and begin producing the "forbidden technology" again.
- Star Trek: Early Voyages: In "The Flat, Gold Forever", the inhabitants of the Federation colony Prairie reject most forms of advanced technology because they believe that Starfleet's commitment to exploring strange new worlds creates more problems than it solves, having led to numerous wars with hostile species. Clare Thorn was the science officer aboard a Federation starship until it was destroyed in battle with the Chakuun. She joined the colony as the experience caused her to reassess her priorities.
- Superman: In the Post-Crisis setting, Kryptonians had became cold, isolated beings who only relied on science, Jor-El being one of the few ones still with feelings or humanity. So good Krypton was destroyed. Sadly, so was Jor-El.
- Shadowchasers Series: Red Feather (a Recurring Character on the heroes' side with a large fanbase) this philosophy, more or less, but isn't as extreme as most examples, disliking technology and seeing it as a key reason for the pollution and damage to the environment. She does use a Duel Disk and an old Jeep Wrangler for transportation, but it is stated she doesn't even like using those.
- Avatar: Taken to Anvilicious levels, as the naturalistic Na'vi are presented as morally and culturally superior in comparison to the more technologically advanced humans, who are all bastards who polluted their own home planet to the brink of ecological collapse.
- Industrial Society and Its Future: Kaczynski argues that modern technology is inherently oppressive and thus there must be a revolution against this before it grows too powerful to change. He is fine however with the technology a small community could maintain, just not anything depending on larger organizations.
- Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH: The rats dislike the fact their society is based around stolen technology and want to be self-supporting. The rats that want to maintain this lifestyle go into exile and eventually die... trying to steal an engine. The other rats, however, still go on to establish a far more technically advanced society than that found among wild rodents, although one they built themselves. In this case it's not automation that is evil, but using technology you didn't build yourself. Also, the desire to give up human technology was at least partly motivated by the fear that it might bring unwanted attention on the rats' society. Which it did.
- Paris in the Twentieth Century: Played with. The world might be filled with technological marvels and war is obsolete, but society is rendered cold and soulless, focused on hard-nosed commerce and valuing scientific and industrial achievement above humanities and classical understandings of art, and other such romantic notions.
- Player Piano, by Kurt Vonnegut, posits a world where automation has replaced most jobs. The majority of people in America (the world?) live on welfare with nothing to give their lives meaning; they hold daily parades to cheer themselves up. Contributing to the dystopia is unshakable faith in aptitude tests, which supposedly identify scientists and managers. One character, classified as a janitor, invented a machine that did his entire job; with no "aptitude" for other work he joined the unemployed.
- Robot Series: Spacers replace all their manual labor with robots, which is viewed as contributing to their isolationist and morally questionable society. There are several works where it's implied that too much technology would hamper human initiative by making things too easy. The theme is that technology should allow expansion and enrichment, instead of stasis and stultification. Space society has stagnated because of their dependence of Robots. It's not technology that's bad — Asimov was an ardent rationalist and science-minded person — but the use it's put to that's the concern here.
- Battlestar Galactica (2003) ends with the entire fleet spontaneously deciding that Ludd Was Right and it's time to throw away all their advanced technology, hand the Cylon basestar over to the Centurions, launch the rest of their fleet into the sun, and embark on a primitive existence on a totally unfamiliar world. This was unfortunately a result of the need for the fleet to become us as shown in the coda to the finale, and flew right in the face of the lessons learned by the characters over the series. Lee actually said they needed to grow before they could attempt to live as they had done, ignoring that they had done just that over the series, even coming together with the artificially created Cylons (some of them), and the point had never been "technology is bad", merely the societal problems they had just overcome! The sad part is that it could easily have been tweaked so that the colonials founded Atlantis, then destroyed themselves and their advanced technology a few generations down the line. Same Aesop, fits the real-world timeline, and it makes sense.
- Black Mirror in general can be seen either as this or a deconstruction of it. While the series indeed often shows technology being used to create sinister distopic elements, some critics argue that the show attacks the people using the technology, not the technology itself.
- Blake's 7:
- Any episode by Ben Steed has characters who either distrust technology or run afoul of it. In "The Harvest of Kairos", Jarvik waxes lyrical over the Good Old Ways in preference to the soulless machines that Servalan has surrounded herself with, and even smashes a computer at the end of his speech.
- In "Powerplay", a society has split into two factions, the Primitives who wanted to live the simple life, and the High-Techs. It's no guess who turn out to be the villains. The High-Techs are capturing the Primitives for Organ Theft.
- Zigzagged Trope generally. In the pilot episode, the Terran Federation is shown to use all the sinister tools of an Orwellian dystopia to enforce their rule — Government Drug Enforcement, Sinister Surveillance, Brainwashing and Fake Memories. However, a couple of episodes later, our heroes end up on a prison planet where a cult leader holds sway without any technology whatsoever, showing that oppression comes from people, not machines. Indeed, the Seven always includes one or two artificially intelligent computers.
- Charlie Jade: The Alphaverse is far more technically advanced than our universe (the Betaverse); it's also severely polluted, run by corrupt corporations instead of governments, and is built on a caste system where the lowest class is considered property. A rather more subtle example, as not everyone who travels from Alpha to Beta prefers the latter. One scientist assigned to the Betaverse is disgusted by the crudity of cancer treatment, implying it's easily curable in her universe, and Charlie himself spends much of the series unimpressed by Beta and trying to get home to Alpha, which he describes as "Some place just like this, only better. And much worse."
- Manhunt: Unabomber: This is Ted Kaczynski's view in a nutshell, as noted in more detail under Real Life below.
- The Outer Limits (1995):
- In "Lithia", the titular enclave relies on a manually powered waterwheel to provide the energy that it uses to process the grain which it needs to survive. Lithia's leader Hera resists Major Mercer's suggestion that they trade with the neighboring enclave Hyacinth for electricity to power the waterwheel as she fears that it will represent the return of the destructive technology which led to the Great War. The enclaves' ruling council are seemingly former or at least wavering Luddites themselves as they only temporarily and reluctantly granted Hyacinth sanction to use electricity in the first place.
- In "Final Appeal", technology was banned after 80% of the world's population was killed in a nuclear war in June 2059. By 2076, the world has reverted to late 19th Century technological levels with the lightbulb being about the most advanced piece of technology allowed. The anti-technology code is enforced worldwide by international agreement. The divisions in the US Supreme Court on the issue are exemplified by United States v. Givens. Chief Justice Haden Wainwright, a retired three-star general formerly attached to NATO and a veteran of the War of 2059, was a member of the panel that recommended the ban. The conservative wing of the Court, consisting of Oliver Harbison and Gretchen Parkhurst, supports the ban with Harbison being its most vocal proponent. The liberal wing, consisting of Earl Clayton and Kendall Woods, oppose it, very vehemently in the case of Clayton, who is affectionately described as a "bleeding heart" by Parkhurst.
- In "A New Life", Daniel, Beth and Thomas join a religious community in an isolated wooded area that eschews technology and advocates the return to traditional values. However, as Daniel later discovers, its leader Father is one of a group of shapeshifting alien merchants who plan to sell their descendants as slaves once humanity's rebellious streak has been bred out of them.
- Stargate SG-1:
- Any apparently human society is either:
- Less advanced than Earth, happy when free of alien influence, but unable to defend itself without help.
- More advanced than Earth and with some disturbingly dystopian element. When it isn't dystopian, it either refuses to help Earth and/or gets blown up.
- There are also planets with Cold War era technology that are, well, experiencing a cold war. At least one destroyed itself in a nuclear war. One might actually consider this natural human development, though. Technology isn't the problem; people are.
- On the other hand, Earth itself advances its technology considerably, and this is never portrayed as a bad thing — in fact it's a major purpose of the SGC; while most tech is held at Area 51 away from public eyes, it's steadily leaked into the world at large — intentional flaws are even inserted into it to make it seem like it was normally developed rather than adopted ready-made. Towards the end of the show, Earth is sufficiently advanced that the show has no qualms about introducing a friendly minor civilization with near-future technology.
- Any apparently human society is either:
- Star Trek:
- Played straight in several episodes where the crew encounters either a supposedly primitive, happy society that is either secretly rather advanced (such as the Organians in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Errand of Mercy"), or long ago had once been advanced, but gave up a high tech lifestyle for a simple one, or a post-industrial revolution society that is really a paper Utopia hiding a dark secret.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "Paradise" features a marooned Federation transport ship that had set up a Luddite society (by necessity as the planet they had crashed on had some kind of energy field which disabled all their technology). Too bad their leader turned out to be a draconian fascist who marooned them on purpose and faked the energy field to force them all to adopt her anti-technology philosophy, to the point of letting people die from simple injuries or treatable illnesses rather than use medicine more advanced than local herbs.
- The Twilight Zone (1985): In "Quarantine", 80% of Earth's population were killed in the nuclear war of 2043 and the survivors made the decision to rid themselves of all forms of advanced machinery out of fear that it would happen again. However, they still use genetic engineering in order to achieve Bio-Augmentation.
- Downplayed in Upload: The technological advancement itself is mostly fine (and is shown to have positive applications: Driving is generally much safer, the energy crisis has seemingly been solved, world hunger is nonexisitent due to the ability to 3D print food, and uploading allows for the formation of connections between people who would otherwise never meet, such as Nora and Nathan). However, the society in which this advancement exists is still aggressively capitalistic, which creates a lot of problems for those who can't afford to reap the benefits of it. Nora, for instance, is a minimum wage employee who, despite working for a major upload provider, would be lucky to scrape together enough money to get an upload for her ailing father. Before his death, Nathan was working on a free alternative to the usual uploading services, which would have alleviated some of these issues.
- Hillard and Sigman's "Civilization" is about an African native snarkily pointing out all the problems with the "civilization" that the missionaries keep going on about.
Don't want no penthouse, bathtub, streetcars, taxis, noise in my ear
So no matter how they coax me, I'll stay right here!
- David Byrne mentions this in the bridge of "Dance on Vaseline":
My baby saw the future
she doesn't want to live there any more.
It's lousy science fiction,
gets on your skin and seeps into your bones.
- Daniel Amos: Vox Humana takes the viewpoint that technology is an extension of mankind's will. As such, technology is flawed to precisely the same degree that Humans Are Flawed. As the short story explains in the liner notes:
The giant was power and power belongs to darkness. It is a Frankenstein monster dwarfing us all. It is, among other things, a mass of communication media which man has constructed to unceasingly persuade us that pursuits like fame, sensual pleasures and money will make life worth living. The giant was and is the power-mad system which possesses a death wish, devouring human beings while seeking its own extinction, devoting its wealth, knowledge and skills to creating the means to blow itself to oblivion.
- The Foundation Trilogy: In "Part Seven: The Mule Finds", the citizens of Rossum point out that their existence, lacking in technology or intense thought, has made them content and happy with their life, unlike Captain Pritchard who has been highly stressed throughout this whole situation.
- BattleTech: This is the hat of the Outworlds Alliance. While they haven't completely given up technology — they're known for the quality and skill of their aerospace fighter force — as a whole they prefer a simpler and less techologically dependent lifestyle than most other factions, with farming being a much greater part of their economy than industry. Given that they've managed to avoid most of the major wars following the Reunification War in the 26th Century by just not being considered worth invading by their highly warlike neighbors, they might be on to something.
- In Deus Ex, one of the endings consists of destroying the Aquinas Hub, a central bottleneck for all of Earth's communication systems which allows the Big Bad to listen into anything that's being shared on any digital media anywhere on Earth. Of course, it also means the end of globalization and the effective collapse of modern society since no advanced communications will work anymore.
- Fallout: Subverted with the Brotherhood of Steel. Though they originally seek to simply preserve technology of the Old World (Even reintroducing it out in one ending of the first Fallout), later depictions of the organization show it as simply hoarding it all for themselves, partly because they believe The World Is Not Ready and partly because they've declined in power and want to keep from losing their stake in the world. Since Old World technology was what caused almost the entire planet to become a radioactive hellhole, who's to say how right they are to keep what they've found under lock and key.
- Mass Effect 3: The original Gainax Ending rather infamously toys with this. It had been established earlier in the series that the mass relay network was built by the Reapers in order to herd galactic civilization along predictable lines of development to carry out their cycles of extinction, with the Citadel built as a trap to make civilizations easier to destroy. In the original ending no matter which choice Shepard makes, all of the relays are destroyed, and in Destroy and Synthesis the Citadel is also destroyed. In case you missed Ludd's anvil, the final shot before the credits has Joker and some combo of crew members and EDI (depending on ending choice) walking out of the crashed Normandy on a lush tropical world, ostensibly to live a life free of evil Reaper technology. The Extended Cut DLC noticeably retcons this stuff out almost entirely, with the relays and Citadel only being damaged, and in most ending slides shown to be repaired, and in all but the worst endings the Normandy flies right back off the jungle planet after some repairs. It was much better received by fans.
- Red Dead Redemption II: Dutch van der Linde is a firm believer of this. He believes that society should revert back to its old ways of The Wild West and that the modernization of civilization is poisonous.
- In Starbound, one of the playable races, the Glitch, was part of an ancient interstellar experiment where mechanical races populated various planets to see how they would evolve. The only remaining members are the Glitch, who couldn't progress past medieval society as a result of the glitch in their programming. This is because the otherwise normally-functioning societies wiped themselves out when their technological development outpaced their social development.
- The "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski believed this, as noted above. In his manifesto, Industrial Society and Its Future, Kacynski argued that humans had evolved for a way of life that industrial civilization and modern technology had destroyed, which he blamed for all of modern humanity's cultural and psychological problems, and argued that, if humanity did not revert to a primitive way of life, it faced a future in which malevolent AI and genetic engineering would lead to the complete enslavement of the entire human race. He also had a social Darwinist streak, arguing that the guardrails of modernity were having a dysgenic effect on humanity by favoring maladaptive traits and removing the pressure of natural selection that, in the past, had weeded out genetic ailments. This was the motive for his bombing attacks, targeting people making, working with, or selling the latest technology. Despite popular belief, his motives were not rooted in protecting the environment, which he only mentioned in passing as one of many positive side effects of freedom from "technological slavery". If anything, he hated the environmental movement (and left-wing politics in general) as merely a symptom of the pathologies of industrial modernity. The view of him as an Eco-Terrorist came largely from a private investigator hired by the Washington Contract Loggers Association who connected him to Earth First! on fairly spurious grounds.
- The Dark Crystal: The evil Skesis use technology as well as magic, while the good Mystics live in caves.
- The Darksword Trilogy is an inversion: the widespread use of magic and prohibition of technology has caused society to stagnate.
- Heralds of Valdemar: In The Mage Storms trilogy, a kingdom that runs on magic is disabled when magic becomes unreliable. Those who did things manually, and those too poor to afford magical assistance, do much better than their wealthier neighbors. However, the key for many of those who pull through very well is... industrializing, the actual technological way. Complete with smoke-belching, coal-fired steam engines (the kind emblematic of the darkest days of the Industrial Revolution). Hence Ludd Was Right was almost certainly not an intended aesop. Also, the eponymous storms were utterly unforeseeable. The Empire was prepared and able to cope with every conceivable disaster, they were simply caught in the position of a society dependent on, say, wind power for energy when the wind suddenly stops blowing.
- The Magic Goes Away has a magic-dependent society that runs out of Mana. Only those who abandon magic and revert to primitive lifestyles survive. In this case, it's not that there was anything wrong with magic, or that the original magic-dependent society was a bad place to live. It's just that magic turned out to be a limited resource... unbeknownst to most of the people using magic.
- Chrono Trigger: The Kingdom of Zeal is the most advanced and prosperous society in the world... at least for the elite castes of society who live on the floating islands. The poor ground-bound folks live in miserable squalor. Oh, and did we mention that Zeal's myriad magical wonders are fueled by power tapped from a monster that exists to devour the world?
- Fate Series: Inverted in Fate/stay night and Fate/Zero. This is how almost every magus views the situation, preferring to rely on magecraft and completely ignoring the technological side of things. 'As science moves towards the future, magic moves towards the past' is seen as the perfect summation, and that regressing and falling behind is perfectly okay. In Fate/Zero, Kiritsugu exploits the hell out of this because magi are so rooted in tradition.
There is some justification for their viewpoint. In the Nasuverse's backstory, the modern age was preceded by an "Age of the Gods" when sorcery was commonplace and magicians could do just about anything. In the modern age, that type of all-powerful sorcery is essentially a lost art, and the magecraft used by modern magi is a pale imitation limited by numerous rules. (The corollary to that is that human beings hadn't come up with any of that stuff themselves; it was all a gift of the gods.) One of those rules is that magecraft cannot accomplish anything that normal humans can't accomplish without magecraft, but that rule also works in reverse; new applications of magecraft become possible as technology advances, and given enough time and technological advancement magecraft could eventually replace the old art of sorcery.