(written as a response to a view that too many people texting on cell phones is bad)
The Jacquard Loom
In 1801, a guy named Joseph Marie Jacquard invented a new machine called a ‘Jacquard loom‘ to simplify the process of manufacturing textiles with complex patterns. He based his machine upon designs of earlier inventors but was the first accredited with perfecting the concept. The machine he invented was controlled by a card that had holes punched into it to tell the machine what threads to use to create pre-determined patterns on the fabric it created.
Although the loom did not manipulate the information on the cards in any way but simply used it as a set of instructions to follow, this invention is now retrospectively looked upon as one of the first primitive forms of computer programming and is definitely the first use of a technology later re-introduced for the very purpose of programming the early main frame computers which used nearly identical punch cards to enter information into the silicone based programmable computing machines.
The period of time known as the Industrial Revolution quickly followed the introduction of this device and other similar inventions such as Eli Whitney‘s cotton gin in 1794 (also hailed for the first well known application of interchangeable, uniform component parts and leading to the creation of cotton mills), Edmund Carwright‘s 1784 invention of the power loom that helped lead to the Jacquard device, Paul Moody‘s 1828 creation of the leather-belt-and-pully transmissions (later dubbed a ‘line shaft‘) which became a standard in many mills.
These innovations along with the eventual invention of mechanical ‘sewing machines’ in the mid to late 1800’s when combined with improvements in transportation, sanitation and communications virtually created a fashion industry, brought people cheap, affordable, high quality clothing and improved lives as well as made fortunes around the globe.
Luddites and Luddite-ism
Perhaps you have heard the term ‘luddite‘ used to describe people opposed to technology? Were you ever made aware of where that term came from?
Luddites is a term coined from the name of Ned Ludd. It was originally applied to textile artisans who were opposed to the use of the mechanical and programmable looms in early 19th century England around the time of the introduction of the Jacquard and other power loom devices.
Ned Ludd allegedly destroyed a couple of these machines a quarter of a century before the discontented textile craftsman began their protests and thus was seen to symbolize the ‘machine destroyers’ and his name used to identify them. Of all places for those protests to begin, they got their start in none other than Nottingham, England and many modern mythologies sprung up by those in the movement depicting Ludd as a modern day Robin Hood, even going so far as alleging he lived in Sherwood Forest. And of course, there are many similar examples of people who have opposed various technologies (and gained notoriety as a result) throughout the ages.
I already alluded to the influence the punch card loom had in leading to digital programming. It is not a stretch to say that the introduction of mass produced textiles is far reaching throughout our modern society. It led to not only cheaper and more cloth based goods and products, but influenced hygiene and health care and has improved just about every other modern industry in one form or another.
As with most things, there is a good and a bad potential in any of them. But the possibilities of the use of technology are enormous! Some accredit the cotton gin and power loom with increasing the practice of slavery. Many still today accuse clothing manufacturers of facilitating child labor and sweat shops in third world nations. (there was such a story about a factory fire in Bangladesh just yesterday, and initial reports are claiming it to have been industrial sabotage)
I don’t know about you, but I’m not really interested in going back to wearing dried and stretched animal skins or very expensive, hand-loomed silks as my primary form of clothing. And I’m not about to give up my cell phone either.