New Book Highlights How Technology Isn't Killing Society, While Highlighting Techno Moral Panics Of The Past

from the we-assimilate dept

In the past, when discussing more modern technopanics around the internet itself, email, file sharing and other modern day technologies, we’ve often pointed to similar arguments about how chess, comic books, rock ‘n roll, the waltz and pinball have all been designated as cultural evils in the past. And, of course, we’ve often covered how the entertainment industry has condemned pretty much every new technology as being hellbent on destroying it (when the exact opposite has happened). Nick Dynice points us to Jack Shafer’s review of Nick Bilton’s new book, called I Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works, which apparently covers many of these historical panics and the resulting lack of follow through:

He points to, for example, the arrival of the telephone and cites one Cassandra who predicted in the March 22, 1876, New York Times (PDF) that the experimental device “by bringing music and ministers into every home, will empty the concert-halls and the churches.” On Nov. 7, 1877, the Times reported that the phonograph was going to eclipse the telephone and kill public speaking and reading:

Why should we print a speech when it can be bottled, and why would [the next generation] learn to read when some skillful elocutionist merely repeats a novel aloud in the presence of a phonograph. Instead of libraries filled with combustible books, we shall have vast storehouses of bottled authors.

The locomotive riled 19th-century Great Britain, which feared that engines would blight crops, terrify livestock, and asphyxiate passengers with their high speeds (greater than 20 miles per hour). The numbskullery continues. Gutenberg’s press was going to destroy the clergy and destroy the state. Television was rotting the public’s brain. Comic books were corrupting our youth. Similar predictions and warnings about the bicycle, the radio, the automobile, the airplane, the washing machine, and the microwave were sounded.

The techno-apocalypse never comes, Bilton points out. Cultures tend to assimilate and normalize new technology in ways the fretful never anticipate. Our language, which some fear will be dumbed down by the slang and acronyms and abbreviations that the pop technologies of texting, IMing, and e-mail encourage, becomes only richer, inspiring what Bilton calls “a new kind of cultural communication.”

Sounds like an entertaining read. Shafer’s review has much more on what’s in the book and on Bilton’s writing style, so read up if you want more. Of course, we’ve pointed out similar techno moral panics in the past, and yet they continue to show up at a rapid pace. I would be interested if anyone has ideas on ways to prevent future moral panics. So far, highlighting past moral panics has been useless. To some extent, I get the feeling that leading the pitchfork gang into a moral panic must be profitable — and thus, they may never stop.

Filed Under: , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “New Book Highlights How Technology Isn't Killing Society, While Highlighting Techno Moral Panics Of The Past”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

A Lot Of Those Did Come True

…engines would blight crops… — carbon emissions leading to global warming.

Gutenberg’s press was going to destroy the clergy and destroy the state. — the spread of learning did indeed lead to hobbling of the political power of the Church and of autocratic States.

Television was rotting the public’s brain. — need I say more?

Headbhang (profile) says:

Douglas Adams nailed it.

I’ve quoted him before, but here it goes again:

“1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;
2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;
3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it, until it’s been around for about ten years, when it gradually turns out to be alright, really.”
– Douglas Adams, on inventions & technology

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Douglas Adams nailed it.

If there’s one thing to remember, it’s that nothing is ever “All or Nothing”.

I’m not a fan of Cloud computing either, except for a few select cases, but why am I not worried about it and shaking a stick? Because I know that for every company that buys into the cloud hype, there will be one company that’s using even “newer” technology, one company who loses money from server costs (like Open Source), three legacy companies who are slow to make the change…etc.

Transitions are slow, even if EVERYONE wants the change.

out_of_the_blue says:

Oh, good. Some bozo wrote a book, so we can ignore the police state.

I’m sure there were similar writers in every collapsed empire. In fact, a little digging through major journals will find numerous stories saying that everything is just fine — and now, here’s the sports report! There’s even funding for such happy talk from the usual miscreants.

Remember next time you’re waiting to be scanned and probed before you fly: everything is OKAY.

brent (profile) says:

Lets us know we’re getting there, wherever ‘there’ is.

-fixed that for ya.


“To some extent, I get the feeling that leading the pitchfork gang into a moral panic must be profitable — and thus, they may never stop.”

I like that idea. It goes along with the young always wanting to rebel against the last generation and by getting the young to use the new eventually it does assimilate into culture.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

I’m waiting for the reverse to happen. “The videogame industry is in decline because kids are going out an playing real sports instead of fake sports on their console. We’ve got to make sports illegal.”

But yes, whatever the establishment is vehemently against is probably something game changing and worth paying attention to and indicates the future, provided the government lets it happen.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...