Andy bristled at the word “vandalism” and preferred “shenanigans” to describe coning activity. He had another reason for declining to share his full name: He codes and works in the tech industry. He does not want to be branded a Luddite, even if he said the term accurately reflects his perspective on robotaxis and technological progress in general.
Many Safe Street Rebels have careers in the tech industry, he said, and “we’re skeptical of it because we work with it.”
Such expertise can breed reservations, and that parallels the experience of the actual Luddites, English textile workers who rebelled against the use of machinery at the dawn of the factory age in the early 1800s.
The Luddites did not advocate for a wholesale rejection of technology, said Brian Merchant, author of Blood In The Machine: The Origins Of The Rebellion Against Big Tech, which publishes next month. Rather, many Luddites worked with innovative machines and techniques in their own homes, and wanted to ensure more widespread adoption did not exclusively benefit society’s elite at the expense of everyone.
In some respects, that jibes with Safe Street Rebels’ resistance to the self-driving cars proliferating throughout San Francisco.
“If you are confronting a technology or resisting it because that technology is a direct threat to your community or way of life, then being a Luddite should be encouraged,” Merchant said. “The activists who are coning cars in San Francisco should embrace the term. They’re engaging in Luddite action and, in many ways, an admirable one.”
Robotaxi companies, not surprisingly, disagree.
Despite a crash involving one of its vehicles and a city fire truck one week after the decisive California Public Utilities Commission vote, Cruise said its robotaxis offer safe transportation. The company further said its vehicles provide reliable late-night rides for workers and that its cars have delivered more than 2 million meals to city residents who might otherwise go hungry.
“Intentionally obstructing vehicles gets into the way of those efforts and risks creating traffic congestion for local residents,” Cruise’s Lindow said.
Safe Street Rebel is one of several groups taking transportation-related matters into its own hands.