Elon University

The 2006 Survey: Scenario Seven – Some Luddites/refuseniks will commit terror acts (Anonymous Responses)

Responses in reaction to the following provocative future scenario were assembled from a select group of internet stakeholders in the 2006 Pew Internet & American Life/Elon University Predictions Survey. The survey allowed respondents to select from the choices “agree” or “disagree” or to leave the scenario unanswered. Respondents were encouraged to provide a written elaboration to explain their answers; they did not always do so, but those who did provided richly detailed predictive material. Some respondents chose to identify themselves with each answer; many did not. We share some – not all – of the responses here. Workplaces of respondents whose reactions are shared below are attributed here only for the purpose of indicating a level of internet expertise; the statements reflect personal viewpoints and do not represent their companies’, universities’, or government agencies’ policies or positions. Some answers have been edited to share more respondents’ replies. This is a selection of the many carefully considered responses to the following scenario.

internet artBy 2020, the people left behind (many by their own choice) by accelerating information and communications technologies will form a new cultural group of technology refuseniks who self-segregate from “modern” society. Some will live mostly “off the grid” simply to seek  peace and a cure for information overload, while others will commit acts of terror or violence in protest against technology.

Compiled reactions from the 742 respondents:
58% agreed
35% disagreed
7% did not respond

Below are select responses from anonymous survey participants. To read reactions from participants who took credit for their statements in reaction to this scenario, please click here.

We are just not all on the same level and there is still a significant technology divide. People tend to lash out at what they don’t understand.However, just like the Amish, they will become hopelessly left behind and will become meaningless in an advancing technological world.

They exist today. There are many examples in history of people sabotaging advancing societies…

Of course. I hope there are refuseniks. We need cultural diversity and a technology monoculture is dangerous and stultifying.

The question is whether it will be just little sparks on the fringe or a full-fledged movement. For it to become a movement, they’ll need to put to use the technology they abhor.

There will eventually be radical, and probably religious-based, terrorists groups that fight technology.

I think this statement misses part, however. There will also be positive influences of these groups who choose other methods than terrorism to add something to the world.

That’s what Idaho and Wyoming are for.

I do not expect a significant amount of anti-technology terror. I would expect a greater degree of simple refusal to become assimilated.

This phenomenon is already developing and taking shape. Something to be prepared for, no doubt.

The terrorism will be within the grid by rival groups.

Luddite/refusnik/terrorist activities have declined since the ARPAnet came on line.

I see this as an increasing threat over time.

I’m starting to feel a little Luddite myself.

Some will live off the grid because of “always on burnout.”

“No-tracers” will become more prevalent (and noticeable) as technology becomes more pervasive. However, violence against technology will be indirect and cloaked in other agendas, such as religious, nationalistic or ethical.

They are evident in every society, history proves that we will have people who will attack what they perceive as the only thing that excludes them from being part of society.

I don’t see the terrorism side, although I do believe more people will move off the grid just to slow down their own lives.

The internet allows like minded people to find each other, for good and bad.

Terrorists commit their acts of violence for many reasons – it is reasonable to expect some terrorist personalities will seize upon technology as a protest topic

Some of the technology-oriented will also commit terror acts and these may well affect more people faster.

Education, ideology, etc will drive it more than those who refuse technology.

At least in America there have always been “refuseniks.” If technology makes personal lives more transparent and civil liberties and personal freedoms are lost, this group will grow in numbers and activity. Any group is capable of terror and violence to make its point, but I do not think this group has a higher propensity for violent behavior

It is up to us to ensure this change. If we start an open discussion with each other, people understand the way.

We already see this, especially with religious fundamentalism. It is certain to increase through 2020. The real danger is the increased lethality of new technology (especially bio-weapons) accessible to such Luddites

What do you mean by “some?” A few 100 loners in Idaho, or entire populations?

I don’t know that technology incites so much fervor as to make people violent. This is kind of like deaf people being their own culture. I can’t imagine it will catch on in any meaningful way.

Anti-technologists are not terrorists – plenty of religious fanatics, however, will occupy that ground.

Luddites will just refuse technology. That is not to say they will attack it – largely as they may lack the knowledge to do so.

Those unable or unwilling to accept wide-open communication and cooperation will always seek ways to destroy those tools which challenge their opinion

Usually an effective act of terror requires the use of technology, so if these folks are willing to be ironic, I suppose terror acts will occur. Otherwise I think they will be like the Amish, content and left alone.

Seeking peace with technology is just as valid as being a hermit, although it is not a way to be a productive member of society, even though some cultures value monastic and hermit life.

Perhaps there will be isolated attempts at violently resisting an IT enveloped world but these groups will lack the resources and backing to resist for any length of time. They will be killed or jailed.

Whilst I agree that many will choose an information-free lifestyle, unless a popular religion rises up opposing technology, I doubt we will ever see terror or violence in protest against it.

The people “left behind” (by technology) will just make up the poor class that hopefully will encourage their kids to get plugged in.

They’re already doing so. (Many answered this way.)

Already the neoluddites make their rejections of technology apparent, whether it’s unabombers or smashing computers on stage at town hall. But most people will ignore this lunatic fringe.

Should this “brave new world” come to pass, I would imagine lucrative illegal enterprises that erase people from the grid. Dropping out is getting more difficult with each year that passes. Again, “society” abhors those beyond its control. As cash transactions become more and more exceptional, even unacceptable in some circumstances, it will be increasingly difficult to be a “mole”. Full autonomy will be impossible without physically leaving normal society and constructing enclaves. It would behoove society to quietly allow this.

There will always be generational differences but the benefits of technology will be practically universal and the reaches of technology-based systems unavoidable.

I agree that this will probably happen, although it hadn’t occurred to me until I read this prediction.

While refuseniks will be part of the future, they will shy away from violence since most modern forms of violence will be technology-intensive.

Religious extremists who believe in the “End Times” will increasingly view technology enhancements like bio-chips and national/universal IDs as signs. Some will help their ideology along by committing unrest.

Where are the Luddites? The only person in recent memory who can rightfully claim the label of being a Luddite is the Unabomber. Will another one like him come along? Probably. But short of some catastrophe, a mass revolt or significant portion of the population retreating from technology is unlikely.

Few people would be able to access info on enough systems to wreak havoc with them. I do think some people will live off the grid, because of a suspicion about what they don’t know about happening with their information behind the scenes. It’s a valid fear, but not everyone is willing to make the convenience tradeoff for security or privacy though.

The same people who hate “big government” will find the new intrusiveness too confining.

There will always be antagonists. There will always be nuts out there who think violence is the best tool for getting the attention of society to hear their viewpoints. Sad but true.

In the future the only way to bring the technology down will be to know it very well. It would be difficult for Luddite to know where the “target” was.

Who will be the Edward Abbey of the networked world village? I’m sure she/he is out there.

Off-the-gridders threaten no one: they’re sustainable, in balance. Hackers, on a global scale, will bring the grid to its knees because it’s in their nature to fiddle, not always in a Firefox/Unix/Mozilla benign mode.

Yeah, but this won’t be a huge problem. We’ve already got groups like this, from the benign Amish to the “eco-terrorists.”

What seems unlikely is that the “technology refuseniks” will be a cultural group in any sense. They will be members of many groups but I do not see that their resistance to one technology or another is sufficient to identify them as a group.

I don’t think one big massive group of Luddites will form. I would not be surprised, however, if small groups dissatisfied with technology and modern culture decide to wreak havoc because they are disconnected from the rest of the world.

I agree with statement that “the people left behind (many by their own choice) by accelerating information and communications technologies will form a new cultural group of technology refuseniks who self-segregate from “modern” society.” The terrorist prediction maybe exaggerated.

I agree that some will opt to live off the grid, but these wont all be “bad” people. There will also be many political dissidents and human rights activists who will be forced off the grid in order to survive.

To some extent but there will not be a major problem or a major acceleration.

Even today there are many individuals who refuse to have anything to do with “that technology” and are either frightened or resentful of it. There will always be individuals who refuse to accept that changes that are taking place in their society and while most will simply make the effort to “drop out” of that society, others will attempt protests of varying degrees of violence.

This question is not as interesting as the presupposed scenario it implies. It reeks of Cold War hysteria. Was it L. Ron Hubbard or J. Edgar Hoover who formulated this one? What is more likely to happen is that the pace of innovation will start to slow and then plateau at a certain level instead of spiking off the chart into chaos as this question implies. Moreover, if history is any guide, the have-nots will be fooled into wanting to be like the haves, rather than trying to destroy what the haves possess.

Don’t know if acts of terror will be protests against technology. Moreso the way that governments and business employ technology.

The Unabomber was only the beginning.

However, I think the threat of terror or violence motivated by this specifically is low. I do agree some will choose to live “off the grid”

Someone has been reading Gibson’s “Bridge” trilogy here!

This is happening in many developing countries.

These will be some of the same people also involved in ELF/ALF.

I think this will come, but not primarily from Luddites who self-segregate. The info technology will be an obvious target for anyone looking to disrupt the evolving status quo.

Some will (and do) live off the grid – e.g., Mennonites, but I don’t think that they refuseniks will act in large numbers to destroy information technologies. Repressive governments will simply block information using technology, as recently demonstrated by China’s actions.

I agree that some people will withdraw from or limit their participation in the world/society facilitated by information and communications technologies, but I don’t expect them to commit acts of terror or violence in protest against these technologies.

This is already happening and will no doubt continue. How big a problem it becomes is harder to predict.

This is an overblown issue that is used to legitimize out-of-control security agencies in need of threats.

Some people will refuse to use new media. Violence is not in the cards.

And they may be right! Or, at least, they may keep us honest. Most people agree that the Industrial Revolution was a good idea, but we sure do have eco-terrorists who fight against its ramifications

They will be regarded like the Amish … it is a lifestyle choice. Any terror or violence would be using technology rather than in protest of technology.

The trend may be more widespread than a small group of segregationists. Most people will experience information overload and seek refuge from time-to-time from their digitally-dominated world. Can you say “Digital-free Club Med”?

This will be exacerbated by educational and financial differences that further separate the haves from the have-nots.

There will always be individuals disconnected from mainstream society, and some few will inevitably react violently.

It’s always been thus. The proportion will be small and the terror unsuccessful.

I think this is also true – but not just in response to encroaching technology. A reasonable percentage of human populations have always had evil intentions – for all sorts of reasons (religious, political, social, etc.) – and new technologies will only give them new tools by which to execute their horrendous deeds.

Yes, this happens already, but it would be a mistake to label such people purely as “Luddites” or “Refusniks” or assume that they will commit acts of terror or violence. In all likelihood, those who don’t self-segregate will have access to much more sophisticated and deadly forms of terror. It will be a mixed picture, not a divided class portrait as given here.

Absolutely, we see this taking place already with Middle Eastern fundamentalist religions that violently reject the modern world while using technology invented there to seek its destruction.

Not any more than normal w/ or w/o Internet. There have been refuseniks for centuries and centuries…

As with John Connor, in “T3.” Yes, but acts of terror will be extremely limited in terms of impact. Terror on these networks will be more of an act of inconvenience…like a thunderstorm, than an act of terror that we see today.

Terror acts are much more likely to be facilitated by technology than be the result of an objection to technology. This being said there will always be malicious use of technology for its own sake – technological vandalism, such as spreading viruses.

Please, they’ll be watching cable in their free time.

If “terror acts” can be considered as taking down communications networks, then they will almost certainly happen. As technology becomes more pervasive and the “majority” of culture is aware and adept, the pendulum will swing in the other direction.

I agree with the peaceniks, disagree with the violence. Those off ICT who act need to organize; to do that requires social involvement, social capital, etc. That requires skills associated with high SES, and thus most likely also with high ICT use. There may come an economic underclass that may commit violence, but it is not their ICT refusal that will create this.

Not only terror or violence, but the human relations aspect of our world may not exist.

I do think we are for a backlash against technology by some factions of the population who feel “excluded” … that their income and/or education level prevents them from accessing technology and thus not succeeding in life.

These individuals will be easier to identify by government agencies and laws- like the Patriot Act. Although they will be “off the grid,” the collaborations by multiple agencies will make it more easy to spot them while making it difficult for them to survive.

I agree that some will choose to live off the grid but I don’t see people grouping into tech refuseniks and committing violence within that group.

Even so, the current percentage of those choosing to be “left behind” will decrease as technology is easier to use and the population ages.

These terrorists will be splinter groups something like White Supremacists. The overwhelming cultural presence will dovetail with technology and all its tempting offerings.

I think they are already out there – just not violent – yet

There will likely be isolated cases. Consider the Unabomber, or the stereotypical “gone postal” displaced worker. However in these cases the issue is the unbalanced individual, not the technology. More commonly I would expect to see individuals, or discrete groups such as Mennonites, Hutterites, Amish, etc, who have made a conscious decision to live ‘simply’ for religious or cultural reasons and self-segregate, but do not offer violent protest.

This is quite possible – but not the intentional left-behinds, also the people that came under the wheels of the accelerating modernisation quite possibly will turn to fundamentalism that embrace terror as an instrument of protest

I don’t think they will be necessarily Luddites, but they will understand that the internet has become (by 2020) the lifeblood of communication and commerce for the global economy. What better way to spread terror than to destroy what we all rely on so heavily? I think the refusniks and Luddites will just exist happily “off the grid” much the same way that some groups/religions now choose to avoid cars, television or modern conveniences. They don’t (so far anyway) commit acts of terror because of their choice

I don’t believe the “refuseniks” are active enough to get out of their chairs, let alone commit terrorist actions, or common graffiti. The information and communications divide is real, and cognitive (I’m not a fan of the Great Divide theory of literacy, but this is a serious cognitive shift). I also link it to the use of psychochemistry in both young people and adults, but at best it is an active/passive split. Counterintuitively, this is in part fueled by Ritalin/Meth, two sides of the same coin. So long as the drug of choice is “puppy-uppers,” any movement fueled by it is going to be more active and focused than consumerist sonambulism. The people being kept on the dull and passive side of the divide are educated in an authoritarian mindset, trained to do as they’re told, buy what they’re told, push the button and watch the blinkenlight. I don’t expect rebellion or activism from them at all. Pot smoking, perhaps. I do predict that there will be off-the-grid activists, rebels, and a new cultural group somewhat akin to Gibson’s “Lo-teks” in “Johnny Mnemonic.” They will be capable of advanced analysis of changes in the structure of the system, and they’ll start building enclaves and havens and systems to protect themselves from oppression inside the grid, whether in China or the US. I see this sort of activism springing up from the free-thinking free-wheeling and pissed off attitude of the blogosphere. And it will also be better organized. Refuseniks, if they do try anything, will fizzle.

Just as technologies cannot in themselves produce happiness for individuals, cultures, or societies, so ‘terrorists’ are likely to use technologies for whatever ends, not to destroy technologies as the root cause of inequality or evil.

I agree, in the sense that the statement is vague – there will always be individuals or groups which will commit terroristic acts against “the modern world”, but they will always be in the minority. See for example the broad range of modern environmentalists (or “eco-friendly”) versus the Earth First “monkey-wrenchers.”

I doubt there will be many people who actually could live in the world without some sort of technology – whether they like it or not. Technology will become too enmeshed in the simple things we need for living – food, air, water, shelter, etc.

I do agree that some will live off the grid because they already are at this point in time. I don’t think that extreme “refusniks” will commit acts of terror, but maybe violence in protest against technology.

I would hope this is not the case. Better that this stay in SciFi stories.

It will not be the Luddites that will be able to do this. It will be the power elite that fear the internet most. They have the resources to be dangerous.

There will always be some “some” out there; some who will refuse to adopt new technologies; some who will hesitate to recognize technology. But violence will be a very small part of the resistance.

It seems unlikely that terror or violence will be in protest against technology … I agree some will chose to be “off the grid” but unlikely they will want to protest in a violent manner

Instead of Luddites, we have the fundamentalists who stand strong against any sort of globalization and loss of identity for themselves. This is already happening, and I see that this extremism is going to get worse before it gets better. But they will use technology to their advantage, not fight against it.

There have always been such and there always will be. I’m not aware of evidence suggesting there will be more of them.

We already have this cultural group, manifested in several ways. I see no reason to think that it will become stronger. How could it? It’s pretty strong right now.

I completely agree that there will be generations and individual groups who are left in the dust of the technology race, but there are already significant examples in history of this happening that do NOT include a cause-effect relationship that includes violence. Using the Amish as an example, perhaps the opposite may be more realistic…individuals retreating “off the grid” as an alternative to the unpredictable pace and unintended consequences that “modern” society is sure to face.

If the refusniks shun technology, they will not be able to commit acts of terror. Acts of terror require a great deal of communication and coordination. So, terrorists will (and already do) exploit the information technologies to their full potential. Although it is possible that some people could live “off the grid” it will become increasingly difficult to survive in a society without encountering information technologies.

We will have to use some of the technology described in previous statements to minimize the risk of being hit by these terrorists. I have a feeling more people will go off the grid than we might expect now.

Always “black” and “white” in this world as human nature.

I’m not sure there are Luddites today. To commit the acts of violence, they will need the mobile phone to communicate.

I agree that some will live off the grid, but I do not agree that some will choose to commit acts of terror of violence.

Double-barreled question not helpful. I agree that some people (probably many) will live off the grid for peace but don’t necessarily agree that this will lead to others committing acts of terror. – But then acts of terror are committed for all sorts of reasons and there have been acts of violence against technology already. I disagree with the statement because I’m not sure about the formation of a new culture of refusniks.

We already have that, but not in the way you think. Al-Qaeda is a battle against modernity, although they use modern technology to do it (jet airplanes). The Republican party, because it is controlled by fundamentalist Christians (as opposed to al-Qaeda, fundamentalist Muslims), also wages a war against modernity, specifically science, and by denying evolution they deny scientific principles and thus all of science. Information overload has been a hollow concern for decades.

These will be people left behind by/reacting against lots of modern things, not just against technology.

Some may live off the grid, and there will probably be Unabomber-like acts of violence, but those will be relatively isolated

Those are not the only alternatives. There are many high tech people who limit the technical interest of their children. There is a middle road.

Though am not sure they will call themselves Luddites. Anti-globalists, pro-God, nationalists, etc. will be other labels used for similar sentiments.

The irony of Luddite/Refusnik terror is that certain technologies are used to protest others. The technologies that have so faded into the wallpaper as to be unnoticeable are used to protest those that have newly arrived on the scene and present unsettling challenges.

Free access will be the weapon on real thread.

Inclusive programs should minimize that risk, as happens today (it does mean that it is impossible to eliminate terrorism but to control its impact).

This question, to me, treats people who do not fully embrace online life as part of their identity as subversive or inferior. This is way too broad of a characterization of those that do not want to be a part of the Internet-is-life movement. There will definitely be self-sufficiency movements that are seeking to minimize risk in the face of global resource crises, but please do not lump these people with terrorists! If you are trying to say, ok, not everyone will be on board…that is fine. But we don’t have to associate those who are non-conformists with terrorism.

It seems more likely that the “terrorists” are making very effective use of the Internet and other computer-based technologies.

These will be very few. On the whole people do not avoid amenities/networks but do try to avoid political control/centres. Thus new communities on the internet, but seperated from political control will (have) emerged and will continue to emerge. There will be a continual battle (as ever) between governments and anarchists. However this will occur within the technology far more than without.

There always are the opposites.

I am sure one in a million (or billion) will do exactly this, which means “some” will commit the acts you describe.

I suppose there might be some extremely small and isolated examples. Past history has shown protests against technology (e.g., automobile) but I don’t see this a anything to be concerned about. Why even bother to mention it in this survey?

However these terrorist type acts will not be limited to Luddites. It is equally possible that a cyber-hacker or bio-terrorist, not only has access to the necessary tools, but seeks to set back the forces of change.

There are always people that wish to live outside the common society or are opposed to the society. However, this has nothing to do with the Internet. E.g. Amish people will not use the Internet, but that is not because of the Information overload.

Put down that bong and switch off the reruns of Star Trek.

Don’t forget the religious fanatics of all stripes, which may or may not also be Luddites, and which are likely to be a much bigger and more dangerous problem.

Yes, there are likely to be bad things happen

No different than we have seen in recent history – there will always be a fringe group of persons who will chose to be different.

This is always true, but how many of these off the grid people are there really? In any event, if the other predictions come true, it will be harder and harder to live off the grid, suggesting that only the most die hard will attempt and achieve it.

As global connectivity continues to improve, wage rates in the developed nations are likely to plummet. The result will be a large-scale migration of the retired to the developing world, and an influx of young educated workers from the developing world to the developed world. As the US exports its retired and imports new engineering blood, the young and uneducated will increasingly become marginalized, unable to afford housing or even food. They will band together in abandoned ghost towns in the mid-west and form extremist sects.

Very few people leave technology on their own; it is the social and political structure that inhibits some from getting close to it under certain situations.

It’s hard to disagree with a ‘some’ sort of statement – after all we had the Unabomber, so this is of course a possibility. However, I doubt we’ll see violent acts of protest against technology. Creative and important ones, perhaps, but probably not violent.

I am not sure that the patronizing term “refusnik” captures the possible magnitude of the problem, as the term suggests that non-use of technology involves a choice. A protest against non-equal (discriminatory) access to technology is different from a protest against technology itself. However, actions due to access inequity may be a bigger problem than those created by disenchantment.

This is an utterly unhistorical understanding of the Luddite movement, which was about ownership textile frames, rather than about rejection of technology per se. I do expect there to be continued struggle over the ownership of technology and that some of that may result in refusal to use technology that cannot be owned or controlled by those who are impacted by it. If that technology is being used to exploit individuals (certainly true for textile frames in the era of the Luddites), then some violent reaction is likely.

Getting off the net is already there. This scenario is again a caricature, especially when pointing to acts of terror against ICT. Up to now the acts of terror come more from agro-chemistry. It is also inappropriate to put a negative label upon those who refuse to embrace the technology/corporate push as it is. There is an obvious need for a critical examination of the most suitable ways to use technology in order to deal with real life issues as seen by the people, as well as the choices of needed technologies.

Human beings can’t live without technology. The only issue is how human beings cope with it. People may have different kind of reactions but all these are natural and temporarily as technology is on-going developing.

Mankind will always have a darker side to offer, it will always have some resented groups and organizations reluctant to any changes and progress. We had them in the past; we still have them in the present; we will have them in the future. But the world will always succeed over these demented minds.