Between 1811 and 1813, English textile workers and weavers conducted a campaign of protests, sabotage and occasional rioting against the spread of new technology that threatened their livelihoods during the Industrial Revolution. At times they also tried to prevent lower-paid immigrants from taking their jobs.
Their actions were in part provoked by the difficult economic climate caused by Britain’s involvement in the war against Napoleon. In the end, their movement was put down by a combination of the British army and show trials that often led to execution or being sent to the colonies.
The protesters came to be known as the Luddites, a term we are familiar with these days, and which is often used to describe anyone attempting to slow or stop the march of the digital revolution. Technologies may have changed in the past 200 years, but many people will recognise the obvious parallels.
There is, though, one insidious difference. In the digital revolution, governments aren’t turning to armies or judges to put down today’s Luddites, they’re turning those digital technologies back on them.