Resisting Techphobia: This Isn’t New
Continuing a mini-series on techphobia, my next point is a simple one: this happens with every new type of technology. I’m only 27 but I’m old enough to remember the same way of talking about TV. People talked the same way about the radio. People talked the same way about newspapers. People talked the same way about the telephone. I’m even willing to bet that people even talked the same way about writing in general. Some of the predictions are true, of course, while others just sound like ridiculous hyperbolic paranoia.
Here’s a great quote that was contributed to a Facebook conversation on the subject – somebody who I have never met in person but have had a few great conversations with – from Thoreau about the newspaper:
Not without a slight shudder at the danger, I often perceive how near I had come to admitting into my mind the details of some trivial affair, — the news of the street; and I am astonished to observe how willing men are to lumber their minds with such rubbish, — to permit idle rumors and incidents of the most insignificant kind to intrude on ground which should be sacred to thought. Shall the mind be a public arena, where the affairs of the street and the gossip of the tea-table chiefly are discussed? Or shall it be a quarter of heaven itself, — an hypæthral temple, consecrated to the service of the gods? I find it so difficult to dispose of the few facts which to me are significant, that I hesitate to burden my attention with those which are insignificant, which only a divine mind could illustrate. Such is, for the most part, the news in newspapers and conversation. It is important to preserve the mind’s chastity in this respect.
I believe that in this country the press exerts a greater and a more pernicious influence than the church did in its worst period. We are not a religious people, but we are a nation of politicians. We do not care for the Bible, but we do care for the newspaper. At any meeting of politicians — like that at Concord the other evening, for instance — how impertinent it would be to quote from the Bible! how pertinent to quote from a newspaper or from the Constitution! The newspaper is a Bible which we read every morning and every afternoon, standing and sitting, riding and walking. It is a Bible which every man carries in his pocket, which lies on every table and counter, and which the mail, and thousands of missionaries, are continually dispersing. It is, in short, the only book which America has printed and which America reads. So wide is its influence. The editor is a preacher whom you voluntarily support. Your tax is commonly one cent daily, and it costs nothing for pew hire. But how many of these preachers preach the truth? I repeat the testimony of many an intelligent foreigner, as well as my own convictions, when I say, that probably no country was ever ruled by so mean a class of tyrants as, with a few noble exceptions, are the editors of the periodical press in this country. And as they live and rule only by their servility, and appealing to the worse, and not the better, nature of man, the people who read them are in the condition of the dog that returns to his vomit.
Did the newspaper destroy society as we know it? Maybe some will say yes, but I think most people would say that it is pretty over-dramatic and while the world changed with the newspaper, it definitely did not fall apart. Most people think of the newspaper as a vital connection to the rest of the world and don’t think it is trying to replace the Bible or the Church at all.
There will always be people to resist change, just as there will always be people who embrace it without thinking about the consequences. We could benefit in learning from both, but the reality will almost surely be somewhere in between. What we’re really talking about is needing discernment, not paranoia or fear. I’ll talk more about this in my final post for this mini-series.