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
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.