A discussion about William Morris' anti-tech future
With professor of utopian literature Deanna Kreisel.
William Morris didn’t like the socialist utopia presented in Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward. He was on board with the socialism part, but it was too technologically advanced and Morris preferred a pastoral future. So in 1890 he published his response, the utopian novel News from Nowhere. The text is decidedly Luddite and you can read my notes on it here:
I really wanted to talk toabout this book. She is a professor of English Literature at the University of Mississippi, specializing in Victorian British literature with an emphasis on utopia. I first discovered her writing with her incredible essay “Whence, Wherefore, Whither Utopia?” and when I began studying utopian literature this year, specifically William Morris’ News from Nowhere, I relied on her research paper “Teaching William Morris” as supplementary reading.
So Deanna and I got on a Zoom to speak about William Morris’s News from Nowhere and how it contrasts with Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward. We spoke about the difference between an ecotopia and a techtopia, whether we think the internet and AI have/will be a net positive for humanity or whether we agree with Morris that it would actually be a net negative, and that we’d be much better off with an analog existence.
We also dove into individualism vs. community. We wondered why college dorms apply the same communal principles that utopian novels do and yet we build our societies for individualism. We often speak of our college years—when we eat together, share bathrooms down the hall, and room with friends—as some of the best years of our lives. And yet when William Morris imagines the same layout for adults we think it antiquated. We’d rather have our own bathrooms, our own kitchens, and maybe that’s actually not what we’d actually want?
Our complete audio recording and transcript can be found below. Take a listen/read then meet us in the comments to discuss technology and whether you actually want a high-tech future. Deanna and I will both be in the discussion all day with you!
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