Ned Ludd – The first futurologist

I grew up one village over from where Ned Ludd may well have been born – there is a belief that he may well have been fictional. The machines destroyed by Ludd – stocking frames – where the beginning part of a process of industrialisation of the hand-knitting industry, something which was previously done in people’s homes. The very first stocking frame was denied a patent as Queen Elizabeth feared what effect it would have on home based framework knitters – a fear proved correct as Ludd’s actions found themselves replicated across the country.

The industrial revolution was already in full swing by this coming of the Luddites, and continued into the 19th century – at least in Great Britain. Perhaps as it’s apogee we can take Henry Ford – “any colour you want as long as it’s black” as the point at which mass production and standardisation reached their logical conclusion. The customer was no longer right, and the worker was an adjunct to the machine, not vice versa.

So what of the products that we can’t industrialise? What of the tools we build today? If we take education as a process which remains highly skilled, it still remains, by en large separate from the machines which provide it. It would no doubt be possible to provide an excellent education without computers at all. However, it’s likely to do such a thing would be considered “Luddite” in this day and age. However, these Luddites are not destroying the machines, they are merely making a choice as to their approach. If you wish to provide a plural approach to your “customers”, then every machine you use is to reduce that approach. Ned Ludd could be seen as conservative in his machine destruction, but in doing so, he was to liberalise customers from fixed forms of products.¬† These broken machines are not as simple as a resitance to cultural change, they are a schism, and in many ways, a schism combined with a new language.

So if we insist of tying tool usage and adoption to progression, then Ludd in not just his passive refusal to adopt, but his proactive destruction could be seen as ensuring the maximum plurality of progression, whereas adopting the machine is to narrow the progression’s options. Ludd in this sense allows for choices, contrasted with Ford’s dogmatic ways.

So how can we model progress if not through tools – Stone age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Digital age – into an age instead of choice. The Internet permits new choices, it does not mandate them. Logically when developing our OER platform as part of the Triton project the skill is not to present a Fordist platform to either producer or consumer, but to maximise the platforms in which we can interact with each other. The project goal of discoverability is as much as about OERs being found (deployable platforms and maximising awareness in those) as it can be to finding and increasing ways of taking the tools of production – the platform of manufacture – to creators in a way that is a perfect fit for their existing methods.

We’ve started to work towards making the interface creators use much simpler and functional, as well as developing new ways of integrating with the system so to offer creators the chance of creating a resource without forcing choices upon them. Hopefully we’ll be releasing several new plugins for WordPress soon, and in doing so start to demonstrate the approaches we have taken into extending the tools towards users – outreach if you will.

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