The Inevitability Of Techno Moral Panics: But Think Of The Children

from the women-and-children-first dept

For years, we've been fascinated with the general phenomenon of technology moral panics, and how we see them all the time around new forms of technology. Video games destroying children's brains. The internet leading kids into a life of porn. These things go back many, many years. In the 15th century there was a technopanic about the printing press ("He who ceases from zeal for writing because of printing is no true lover of the Scriptures.") In the 19th century, people were told that traveling on trains above 20mph would asphyxiate passengers. A hundred years ago, movies and telephones were declared evil (movies: "This new form of entertainment has gone far to blast maidenhood" and telephones: "Does the telephone make men more active or more lazy? Does [it] break up home life and the old practice of visiting friends?").

DannyB now points us to an interesting Wall Street Journal article that delves into the subject of technopanics, and how they almost always seem to target "women and children" first. It's the classic "for the children!" argument that we see all the time. In fact, the article highlights another techno moral panic we hadn't heard of before: around electricity:
If you electrify homes you will make women and children and vulnerable. Predators will be able to tell if they are home because the light will be on, and you will be able to see them. So electricity is going to make women vulnerable. Oh and children will be visible too and it will be predators, who seem to be lurking everywhere, who will attack.
The article focuses on the research of Genevieve Bell, who has a theory on these kinds of technopanics, saying that they need to have these three conditions to really bring out the fear mongering:
  • It has to change your relationship to time.
  • It has to change your relationship to space.
  • It has to change your relationship to other people.
I'm not sure this always applies (think of the panics around video games, comic books... and chess -- yes, chess: "chess is a mere amusement of a very inferior character, which robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler acquirements, while it affords no benefit whatever to the body"), but it does seem to apply in many cases.

Of course, for those of us who tend to be optimistic about new technology, and skeptical about the same old moral panics that almost never seem to have any evidence to back them up, there's not much to be done, other than to point out these historical similarities. Unfortunately, that rarely works for the new generation who always have something in their back pocket about why "this is different!" even though it almost never is.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Jul 22nd, 2011 @ 5:43pm

    What remains same is Pollyannas saying "Don't worry!"

    Then, logically by your assertions, "teh internets" has changed nothing. -- Nor does the increase of copyright enforcement! -- And there's no increase of police state! -- Yes, Mike, everything is just exactly the same as always. Go back to your video games, kids.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    icon
    justok (profile), Jul 22nd, 2011 @ 5:59pm

    The only thing

    The only thing to fear is fear mongering.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Mr. Smarta**, Jul 22nd, 2011 @ 6:04pm

    Yeah, right

    The internet leading kids into a life of porn.

    I would just like to say that when I was a kid, HBO and ONTV late at night didn't lead me to a life of porn. My life is only half dedicated to porn... not all of it. Sheesh!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Ffop, Jul 22nd, 2011 @ 6:16pm

    Re: What remains same is Pollyannas saying

    You are right, however, the change is less about technology and more about the role of government. The capacity to enforce regulation effectively is much higher now than it was when most of the previous moral panics took place. Public support is also higher or at least more relevant in societies that are more affluent and healthy than those previous societies were, so they can devote the time and energy to moral panics. With some irony, technology had a great role in creating this society that allows for constant moral panics.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    icon
    Deimos280 (profile), Jul 22nd, 2011 @ 6:19pm

    If only

    What was that video game hitler was always playing? And what about all that porn they found in bin laden's hide out? And Mr. Smarta**, Im sorry but your soul is half doomed. Someone stop him before he goes and shoots up a school! HBO late night... its the devil!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 22nd, 2011 @ 6:23pm

    Re: What remains same is Pollyannas saying "Don't worry!"

    Who said nothing changes?

    You apparently. So I suppose you're arguing with yourself?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    icon
    Donny (profile), Jul 22nd, 2011 @ 6:38pm

    Conditions

    Wow, Genevieve Bell's conditions are odd. Not because they're wrong, but because they're way too...right. Open university fits those three conditions. Air travel fits them. Netflix. Fridges. Polaroids. Fake tan. Restaurants. Home movies. Yoga classes.

    (In fact, swap out "other people" for "causality" and you have Kant's three pre-conditions for experience. As in, EVERYTHING you perceive/interact with is understood in terms of temporality, spatiality, causality.)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Zot-Sindi, Jul 22nd, 2011 @ 10:41pm

    Re: Re: What remains same is Pollyannas saying "Don't worry!"

    I don't think he even knows what he's typing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Zot-Sindi, Jul 22nd, 2011 @ 10:43pm

    Re: Re: Re: What remains same is Pollyannas saying "Don't worry!"

    He probably forgets what he's writing half-way through, sees what's written and starts rambling on a counter to the previous half.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Stormtrooper, Jul 23rd, 2011 @ 2:25am

    Re: If only

    I think it was "Wolfenstein 3D"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    icon
    The Devil's Coachman (profile), Jul 23rd, 2011 @ 3:56am

    Re: What remains same is Pollyannas saying "Don't worry!"

    I'll bet that if I went down to your local A&P, they would be completely out of tinfoil!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Morgenstern, Jul 23rd, 2011 @ 9:12am

    Technopanics

    The issue this post ignores is that technology is not a neutral entity. No technology introduced is ever used as it was intended, and the replacement of a technology with something better does not condemn that piece of technology to disappear completely.

    While there are plenty of wild speculations and comments that accompany any new technology, as the posting indicates, it is wrong to assume that nothing changes with the introduction of a new piece of technology.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Alien Bard, Jul 23rd, 2011 @ 10:34am

    Re: What remains same is Pollyannas saying "Don't worry!"

    Does trolling this blog pay well? Do you get a single paycheck from an individual corporation, or do they all contribute toward your fee? Also, do you monitor a variety of other blogs, or just this one?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Alien Bard, Jul 23rd, 2011 @ 10:42am

    "If you electrify homes you will make women and children and vulnerable. Predators will be able to tell if they are home because the light will be on, and you will be able to see them."

    Does that mean lanterns, candles, and other forms of fire emit light not visible to predators? I bet the anti-electricity lobbyists belonged to the candle makers guild.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Alien Bard, Jul 23rd, 2011 @ 10:49am

    Re: Technopanics

    Very true. Dynamite is a good example of a new technology that changed the world in ways unimagined by the inventor - though I expect those with more cynical natures would not have been so surprised.

    As an old friend of mine used to say, "No object has ever been invented that I cannot turn into a weapon." The more I see, the more I believe him, and I think that also extends to ideas.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Nicedoggy, Jul 23rd, 2011 @ 9:04pm

    The ironic part of technopanics is that the measures they use to try and stop eventually get used to punish everything even the children.

    Quote:
    The boys committed their crime at age 14. And just what was it?

    Horseplay. Stupid, disgusting horseplay. According to NJ.com, the kids pulled down their pants and sat on two 12-year-olds’ faces for the simple reason that they “thought it was funny” and were trying to get their “friends to laugh.”

    Source: https://freerangekids.wordpress.com/2011/07/23/new-outrage-sex-offender-or-teenage-jerk/

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 24th, 2011 @ 9:32pm

    Simple solution: shoot anyone who mongers fear.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2011 @ 8:15am

    "Suing people for allegedly sharing copyrighted files on the Internet? Even children, mothers, and old folks? That's preposterous! Think of the children!"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This