MIKE GOLD: The secret Luddite?
Yesterday, I turned on my cell phone for the first time in about two weeks. I was at I-Con in Long Island New York and was waiting to meet up with some friends. I only turn on my cell when I’m out of town or at a convention, and the fact that I didn’t have to have it on in two weeks had made me happy.
First among my 19 voicemails was a message from Harlan Ellison, admonishing me for misspelling Edgar Allan Poe’s name in a ComicMix news story back when. He’s right, and I should have caught it. I’ve been a fan of Poe’s longer than anybody except maybe Jack Kirby. The problem is, when I’m under deadline pressure (and with the Internet that’s 24/7) I over rely upon my spellchecker. Sadly, those suckers ignore words that are misspelled into other real words. I let it do my thinking for me; my bad.
Mr. Ellison often refers to himself as a Luddite, disparaging our computer-communications society. I sympathize. Coincidentally, the very night before my wife and I had watched the first half of a Doctor Who serial, "The Mark of the Rani", which was set in 1811 at the birthplace of the British Luddite movement. They did a good job of disclosing the reasons behind the movement, except that I don’t think a pair of Gallefreyan Time Lords encouraged the Luddite movement.
For the history-challenged out there, the Luddites were members of a movement of English workers at the dawn of the Industrial Age who destroyed the machinery that they thought was taking their jobs. It is believed the media named the participants after Ned Lud, one of their ilk, although that might be apocryphal.
You can hardly blame them. The ruling classes always instill such fears in their workers as a means of keeping wages low and discipline high. There are always all sorts of odd ramifications to this philosophy – for example, our marijuana laws were imposed under the belief that they would deter Mexican immigration and take jobs away from the “common man.” If this sounds like our current immigration attitudes, well, that’s no coincidence.
I’m hardly the type of person who could pass the Luddite entrance exam. We’ve got all sorts of computers and DVD burners and media hardware, and a dishwasher and all kinds of cool stuff. In fact, if I just had a nuclear reactor in my basement and cows and chickens grazing in my backyard, I’d never have to leave my house. And, oh yeah, I’m an executive of a big ol’ Internet content-providing company called ComicMix.
But I don’t have a microwave oven – l love to cook – and I don’t like my cell phone. It’s an imposition. It interrupts me when I’m writing or doing important things, including talking on the telephone. I feel the same way about call waiting and instant messaging; they each take away a bit my privacy and my right to control my own time. Not all progress is progressive.
Choice is always progressive, and people who live off of their cells and IMing and such – like, for example, most of the rest of our staff – Crom bless you. But if I don’t return your cell call for a few weeks, please don’t take it personally.
When you think about it, the Luddite philosophy is part of the American myth. That hammer-driving man John Henry was a Luddite fighting for his job. “Dumb smart aleck,” Tom Smothers said. “Thought he could beat a steam drill.” Well, yes. Technology is important and useful and probably saves more lives than it destroys. It does change the nature of the work force, but so does habit, war, and greed. It’s always changing; it’s always one thing or another.
The cell phone and the Internet are major components of the movement that is changing our culture inside out. The big, big money people are trying to seize it, control it, and profit from it at our expense. Ned Lud wasn’t totally full of it, and we must maintain our ability to control our own lives to the greatest extent possible.
Mike Gold is editor-in-chief of ComicMix and dedicates this column to the memory of Jerry Bails.