The Technologist vs. The Luddite
In 1995, a young, optimistic technologist found himself frustrated by the dire prognostications of a splenetic Luddite. The technologist, Kevin Kelly, a cofounder of Wired magazine, went to interview the Luddite, Kirkpatrick Sale, at his apartment. The interview was a pretext for Kelly to challenge Sale to a bet about the future of a society influenced by the rapid gains in computing technology.
Kelly had a strong belief that society would benefit tremendously from advances in computing. His career was defined by that belief. Sale predicted nothing less than a societal collapse. He had been advocating for a return to preindustrial life for decades.
Even back then, Sale distrusted computers. With another classmate, he cowrote a sci-fi musical about escaping a dystopian America ruled by IBM; it features an evil computer. If this sounds at all Pynchonesque, it’s probably because Sale’s cowriter was Thomas Pynchon. Nonetheless, a line in it foreshadows Sale’s later work. “All we want is someplace where every time we turn around we don’t see that idiot damn machine staring at us,” one character gripes. This is 1958.
The strident claims made by Sale were alarming to Kelly, who had brought a check with him in order to secure the bet against those predictions. A deadline to settle the bet was made, at which time a shared publisher and friend would judge who had won.
25 years later, the time came to decide the winner, and the outcome was close.