Luddites Lament

The Real Life Ventures and Adventures of Trey and Batman

by Trey Nosrac

Two blocks south of the Pittsburgh AMTRAK station, we were sitting in the Bombay Bar. The joint was a relic from the era of train travel, dark with a smell of oiled wood. The only other person in the bar was an eager young bartender with rolled up sleeves on his long-sleeved white shirt. He sported one of those haircuts that all swooped in one direction and covered one eye. After he served us Bombay Bombardiers, he returned to a stool to read something on his phone with his serviceable eye.

The subject on our small round table was the future of harness horse racing. Our debate was spirited. In my social circles, name-calling is mandatory, belligerence is probable, and bruises are possible. My new horse partner had a higher pedigree, vulgarity and his snippy tone was out of character.

“Don’t be such a damn Luddite,” he barked.

I continued my rant, “Your technology mumbo-jumbo and theories don’t mean squat in the real world. You just yak away like the great Swami of Silicon Valley, but where’s your plan? We’re still bleeding gamblers and owners.”

“There’s a lack of ingenuity.” He gave me a dismissive wave.

“You’ve got a lack of common sense. You spend too much time sniffing algorithms.”

“In your sport, innovation is a four-letter word.”

I set down my Bombardier on the rocks, leaned forward, and said, “We ain’t high techies.”

He also leaned forward saying, “Nobody in racing needs to be writing code. They don’t need to program artificial intelligence, but they should use what assets they have.”

“Like what?”

“Like the operation in Canada where they sell ownership portions of horses. What’s it called?”

“The Stable,” I answered.

“Yeah, they are trying. They are shooting for something bigger; they will hit some bumps along the way, but it is a real effort. An initiative like that takes guts and a lot of work. Other than them, after spending a year as an outsider poking around your sport, I don’t see a ton of innovation.”

We had a small cease-fire while I agreed, “The Stable thing is cool, I’m gonna try it. There has been part ownership of racehorses forever, but this one seems to take it up a notch with cell phones, drones, and podcasts. I hope they make it.”

“Trey, The Stable could be a big thing, cross your fingers for them. But you need ten efforts like that. Nobody needs to re-invent the computer or harness racing. Nobody needs to re-invent the sulky wheel. You need clever, hard-working people who are trying, not just sitting there raging against the machine. In a world of rapid progress, you can’t wait for other people to make changes or you will be waiting for Godot.”

I stuck my fist into the air in a power salute. “Hah, I get that one — Waiting for Godot, a snide literary reference to a famous book.”

“Close, it’s a play.”

“What the hell is a Lukite?” I asked.

“Luddite, with two d’s is a person who opposes new technology, who believes it takes away jobs. Ned Ludd was a weaver. In a fit of rage in 1799, he wrecked a pair of new-fangled textile machines. It grew into a movement. Eventually, other English textile workers violently destroyed power looms because these new machines were taking their jobs and livelihoods. They called themselves Luddites.”

“Good for them,” I said.

He shook his head, “No, not really. First of all, it was early fake news. Ned Ludd was a fictitious character created to shock and provoke the government. The Luddite movement to stop progress was futility based upon a fallacy.”

“Fallacy and Futility – possible names for my next yearling. I’ll write that down.”

My wit did not slow him down, “Trey, you cannot stop progress. The world today has people who snap like Pavlovian dogs every time their phone dings. This is the world horse racing has to live in, a world that will continue to change as fast as every other business.”

I leaned back and said, “I can’t remember NOT using a computer or phone for racing.”

He nodded. “Your little sport might not exist without technology. Would YOU gamble and race without your iPad and cell phone?”

Buying a few seconds, I took a sip of my Bombardier, “Well, the answer is probably not, but using my cell phone proves that I’m not a harness racing Luddite.”

He calmed down and spoke softly, “Look, this conversation is stupid because opposition to technological progress is not even possible. Technology is everywhere and isn’t going anywhere. Your sport needs to embrace it, to use it, and to ask where it can go next.”

I slapped my palms on the tabletop, “HOW? Your techie talk and theories are bull. Give me ONE single plan, give me one SIMPLE plan that a racetrack could try, a plan we could understand, a plan that we could all get behind, a plan that we could start tomorrow, a plan that is affordable, and a plan that would make everyone excited and give us hope. Climb out of your cloud and bring it down to earth, dude.”

The Bombay Bar turned as quiet as a tomb.

Batman gazed at the doorway as if he was expecting the answer to walk through, sit down and order a Bombardier. He almost said something, but then reconsidered and stared at the door again.

After a long minute, he said, “Okay.”

“Meaning what?”

“An implementable plan, I have several. Do you want to use AR or RTS or VPM or CTA or DL or VR? Pick one.”

“VR,” I said without hesitation.

“Good choice.”

“Thanks, I always go with the last thing I hear when speaking in letters that have no meaning.”

“They are branches of technology your sport should consider.”

“That’s what I thought, but I didn’t want to go out on a limb. Show me what you got, but remember, I’m a Luddite, so do it in basic English.”

He smiled and grabbed his leather jacket from an empty chair, “It’s late. Tomorrow I will rock your world with a plan.”