The Luddite’s Dillema

The other day I was having a conversation with a few friends who were talking about smartphones. The topic came up because my friend’s daughter keeps asking him for an iphone. His response was to show him his ancient cell phone and proclaim that he doesn’t need an iphone so why should his daughter get one?

For luddites, the question of necessity is always the first objection to any new technology. Necessity is always a relative thing. Luddites always question the value of a new technology by proclaiming that they don’t need it. But what technology do you actually need?

If you ask most people today, they will probably declare that they need a cellphone. Twenty years ago, if you asked the same people they would probably claim that a cellphone was completely unnecessary. The same is true of the computer, ATM cards, the automobile, electricity, running water, plumbing, etc, etc, etc. Back in the stone age I’m sure there people who claimed that horses were unnecessary.

Parents questioning the need for a child to have a smartphone reminds me of my own childhood experience. Way back in 1993, I was a 15 year old who wanted to have a pager. Back then pagers were only associated with doctors and drug dealers. A few of my friends had pagers, and I wanted to get one too. I scrounged up enough cash to buy a “used” pager down in Philly and brought it back up to my hometown to get activated.

My parents were not happy that I bought a pager. They associated pagers with drug dealers and didn’t understand why I needed a pager. As with any technology, the question of need was brought by those that oppose the new technology. After a heated discussion, I was able to keep my pager.

A few days later, I was out with friends and my parents needed to get ahold of me. They tried calling my friend’s house, but I wasn’t there. So what did they do? They paged me, and a few minutes later I called them from a pay phone. At that instant, my parents saw the value of the new technology and no longer objected to the pager. In fact, they loved the idea of the pager since they could reach me no matter where I happened to be.

Luddites are people who constantly object to new technologies by questioning the need, but really they are just people who don’t understand the value. There are always going to be people who irrationally object to new technologies, but for most people once you communicate the value, the question of need is no longer an objection.