Readers of my blogs here on Medium will know that I’m sceptical about a lot of things from the world of technology. In my own field, podcasting, I’ve been a bear in a bull market for a while — and I think many of my concerns have proven to be quite astute (if I don’t say so myself). And when it comes to AI, I have far more fears than causes for excitement.
Which is why I started writing a newsletter, Future Proof, to more broadly tackle the issues facing digital media and technology. A few months ago, I was sat at my desk, reaping the endorphins from another day of committing excessively confident opinions to the internet (as young men are prone to do). I had written a piece that ended with a reference to smashing the spinning jennies. (I think the piece was about the Metaverse, and having spent an afternoon immersed in the dead-eyed world of VR, I felt the need to cool myself off with a refreshing dollop of 18th century anti-technologism).
And then, a little while after I birthed that blog into the world, an email appeared in my inbox. Ping.
I recognised the sender’s name, because I am, at heart, terminally online. I was interested in what they were writing, and the subject line, which read simply: NED LUDD RETURNS.
The body of the email was, if it’s not tooting my own horn, complimenting my aggressive distaste for superfluous technology, but also going much further. IN THE END, they wrote, IT WILL COME TO PASS THAT WE REGRET 99% OF INNOVATION. This was a striking thought, I felt, coming, as it did, from someone who’d spent a career in technology, driving forward exactly that sort of innovation.
We exchanged several emails over a few weeks. I wanted to convince them to do an interview about this, and commit to some sort of new Luddite manifesto. Ned Ludd, after all, was himself a mysterious figure, born from the imaginations of the Leicestershire weavers who needed a figurehead to champion them against the machines that were making them redundant. Could my correspondent be that same figure for the 21st century?
Eventually we settled upon this: The Ned Ludd Radio Hour. Each week I will talk about big issues in tech and interview great thinkers (and doers) from the sector, and Ned will send me a punchy piece of The Ned Ludd Manifesto, which we will all built together. It will be a way of better living with technology, in a future that could squeeze the “human” out of humanity.
You can listen to the first episode below, and subscribe for a new episode each Monday.
The first episode is with Gavin Mueller, an academic at the University of Amsterdam and author of Breaking Things at Work: The Luddites Were Right About Why You Hate Your Job. We’re talking about AI, automation and how human sense of purpose can survive all that. I’ve got a bunch more episodes already recorded (with some excellent guests), which will be dropping on a weekly basis from now.
But I also want your help in, firstly, promoting the show, and secondly, finding me good guests. If you think you — or someone you know — would be a good person for me to chat with, drop me a line to firstname.lastname@example.org (please put the name of the podcast in the subject line, if possible, otherwise I might miss it). They don’t have to be a tech sceptic — they can be a tech evangelist, even better — I just want to speak with people who have interesting views on, and experiences with, the world of tech.
I hope you enjoy the first episode. Feel free to feed back to me any thoughts. You can join the sub-reddit here (it currently has 1 member: me) or follow on all the usual places by going to NEDLUDDLIVES.COM.
Trailer for The Ned Ludd Radio Hour below: