David Auerbach in Slate:
Technology will save us! Technology sucks! Where today’s techno-utopians cheer, our modern-day Luddites, from survivalists to iPhone skeptics to that couple that dresses in Victorian clothing and winds its own clock, grumble. Understanding the former urge is pretty easy: It’s a fantasy of a perfect world. The Luddite impulse, however, isn’t so clear—and we shouldn’t automatically dismiss it as one that scapegoats technology for society’s ills or pines for a simpler past free of irritating gadgets. Rather, today’s Luddites are scared that technology will reveal that humans are no different from technology—that it will eliminate what it means to be human. And frankly, I don’t blame them. Humanity has had such a particular and privileged conception of itself for so long that altering it, as technology must inevitably do, will indeed change the very nature of who we are. To understand the appeal of being a Luddite, you need only read these words of Leon Trotsky:
To produce a new, “improved version” of man—that is the future task of Communism. Man must see himself as a raw material, or at best as a semi-manufactured product, and say: “At last, my dear homo sapiens, I will work on you.”
This vision, promptly disposed of by Stalin, is so intuitively unappealing that even with the return of authoritarianism to Russia, neither Vladimir Putin nor any of his associates have revived the idea of scientifically perfecting man. Such language brings back bad memories of eugenics, Nazi experiments, Tuskegee, and worse. Yet those fears don’t stop us from using technology to become those new, improved versions of ourselves—from buying up iPads and smartphones and storing the digital residue of our lives in the cloud.