Any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic. And humanity has spent a great deal of time terrified of both. Even in 2017, many people are still suspicious of common household items, whose inner workings are mysterious and unexplained.
This is a portentous list of thirteen technological terrors humanity has been afraid of. Read on, and see if any of these wired widgets make you a little nervous.
1. Trains and Planes
When the world’s first public railway opened in 1825, many people were mortified. Surely, the human body could not withstand the grueling velocity of 30 miles per hour. People believed this speed would rip you apart, or you would suffocate.
Even though thoroughbred horses could travel at this speed or more for short bursts, the people of the time believed travelling in a train was inherently different from being on a horse – especially with all that smoke, soot, and noise.
Of course, nothing happened. Later on, planes were the next big phobia. But given you’d have to fly every day for 22,000 years to be involved in a fatal aircraft accident (which is way safer than car travel), a fear of flying is just plane crazy.
Millenials may be shocked, but phones weren’t an immediately loved invention. Concerns ranged from elderly people worrying that contact would electrocute them, men worrying wives would spend too much time gossiping on them, and many believing the lines were conduits for evil spirits.
Because of this, many phone lines were stolen and sabotaged. It was for the people’s own good, after all.
‘Television will rot your brain!’ ‘Stay away from it or you’ll ruin your eyes!’. Sound familiar? Even today, there are a small percentage of people who don’t like having TV’s around.
Back in the first days of TV, there was some actual cause for concern. General Electric shipped a bunch of faulty TV sets in the late 1960s. How faulty? They emitted dangerous X-rays, so officials warned against sitting too close.
The problem was fixed, but the damage was already done. Warnings to stay far away from TV sets have persisted since then, all from a shoddy factory job.
4. Light Switches
President Benjamin Harrison had his White House staff turn the lights on and off for him, out of fear or being electrocuted himself by touching an electric switch.
Nice to know your President is looking out for you as you go turn off all the lights for him.
For folks who don’t understand Wi-Fi, it can be a scary thing. There’s some invisible ‘force’ that’s being broadcast around your home, and surely that can’t be good. Many people still worry about “electrosensitivity” and other ill effects from wi-fi, yet there’s still no reliable evidence of any kind.
Future prediction: this phobia is very likely to resurge when wireless charging of your devices becomes mainstream.
When I was growing up, I was told time and again to stand away from the microwave when it was working, “if I ever wanted to have children.” (I was told the same thing about satellite dishes)
These concerns have existed as long as microwaves have, especially since our favorite term for the reheating process is “nuking” your food. One can see how fears of DNA damage could spring from there.
The full explanation is very technical, but Microwaves are scientifically proven to be harmless. But since the explanation of how microwaves work is so hard for many people to get their head around, these fears persist. And they will continue to do so, so long as there’s a demand for reheated pizza.
“These radio things are distracting children from reading and diminishing performance in school!” Many people were worried that between the humdrum of school assignments and the compelling excitement of the loudspeaker, young excitable minds were losing their balance.
Of course, there was the usual fear of radiation from these devices, which seems to come hand-in-hand with any sort of technology, when you get right down to it.
It’s not surprising that stage actors absolutely hated the idea of film. Instead of performing in front of an enthusiastic crowd giving them a standing ovation, they played instead to an impersonal device which magically captured their acting for distribution.
Charlie Chaplain said in 1916, two years into his film career, “The cinema is little more than a fad. It’s canned drama. What audiences really want to see is flesh and blood on the stage.”
9. VHS Video Recorders
“I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston Strangler is to the woman home alone.” These were the words of the Motion Picture Association of America’s Jack Velenti, who appealed to the US Government to have video recorders band.
Imagine how he would have loved Netflix.
Video, ironically, went on to save the US film industry, creating a massive global market for video cassette sales and rentals. Video tapes, in the end, worked out reel-y well.
10. Robots & AI
The fear of automation, for many people, is a justifiable one. Digital technology has replaced humans in countless fields: ATMS, self-scanning checkouts, factory machines, or digital stores replacing physical ones.
Far be it from us to slow down, though! We’re working towards self-driving cars, care robots, and all sorts of automation software. Depending on what job you’re in, you may be clutching to your chair in fear the robots will take it away (Fear not – they don’t need to sit).
Why, just this week, Silicon Valley Billionaire Elon Musk declared that machines imbued with general intelligence and self learning pose a “fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization” to a bunch of US Politicians.
“Until people see robots going down the street killing people, they don’t know how to react because it seems so ethereal,” Mr Musk said.
Well, time will tell if this is telephone techno-phobia or a genuine portend of doom.
11. Text Messaging
Text messaging will ruin the English language! As a writer, I can tell you that every generation has put their own distinct marks on the English language, from Shakespeare to Samsung-users.
You could go OLD English, like so:
“hē sceole wiþ þǣm līchaman hine gedǣlan”.
Or slightly more modern English, circa 1908:
E.g. “Tis good to pang-wangle as a butter and egg man using a happy cabbage, for any day one may find themselves in a pine overcoat. Of course, one may find themselves in the ketchup and be called a zib, but at least I’ll have a gigglemug.”
Do either of these make sense to you? They probably won’t, because they’re examples of ‘actual’ English – or at least more actual than what you’re reading now. Every following generation has butchered it more and more, and you’re just speaking the latest version (English v2017.07). Prepare for next year’s update.
Also, here’s some food for thought: if you were to speak to your forefathers, they would hear you speaking nonsense – the equivalent of text speak. Lol.
12. Video Games
“They make you fat! They ruin your social skills! They turn you into a violent shooter! People will keep playing until they forget to reproduce and humanity will go extinct!”
Whenever something is to blame, you can bet the easiest and quickest explanation is those dang video games. It’s almost like people did the same thing with movies, and cinema, and radio, and… wait, did they do the same thing with…?
… Yes. People were afraid of the ill-effects of paper when it came out, from plain pieces to the printing press. It sounds so silly now, but this was a genuine, recorded fear from 370BC to the 19th century.
Here’s some great quotes to illustrate the point.
Socrates, 370BC: “Writing is a step backwards for truth”. This great scholar, who never wrote, said that the invention of writing would produce forgetfulness and only a semblance of wisdom, but not truth or real judgement.
His student Plato agreed. The irony is thick, considering how many written essays quote these two philosophers.
Gottfried Wilhelm, 1680 (Philopher and mathematician): “This horrible mass of books that keeps growing might lead to a fall back into barbarism.”
Count Leo Tolstoy, 1869: The “most powerful of ignorance’s weapons” is the “dissemination of printed matter.”
You are now reading these men’s fine quotes due to the advent of writing. You’re welcome.