Our Irrational Fear of New Technology

Our Irrational Fear of New Technology

Technology is growing faster than ever, but our views of it haven’t changed in centuries. For some reason, every time a new technology is unleashed on the world, many are at best skeptical and at worst completely dismissive.

This has been happening since the beginning of time, starting with the written word:

“Writing is a step backward for truth.” Plato, 370 BC

To books:

“The horrible mass of books that keeps growing might lead to a fall back into barbarism.” Gottfried Wilhelm, 1680

To radio:

“The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?” Investor in response to David Sarnoff, 1920

To cinema:

“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.” Charlie Chaplin, 1916

To computers:

“There is a world market for about five computers.” IBM Chairmen and CEO Thomas J. Watson, 1943

To the television:

“Television won’t be able to hang on to any market it captures after six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” 20th Century Fox CEO Darryl Zanuck, 1946

You get the idea. What interesting to me are the people that were saying these things back then. They weren’t stupid or ignorant, actually quite the opposite. Often times these individuals were big players in their respective industries. Despite that, they still had short-sighted, dismissive views of new technology.

The other part that is interesting is how the previous technology that was just as hated before, was now fully embraced as the best thing since sliced bread. Books were hated until they weren’t. This cycle seems to be ongoing and never ending.

Today the narrative has shifted towards the internet, information overload, smartphones, and video games. Here are just a few of the prevalent headlines:

There are tons of these sorts of articles. Although many of them are filled with wild speculation, without any research backed evidence whatsoever. In fact, research has shown that the opposite claims are often true. Some may raise a few legitimate concerns, but what I truly want to understand is why there is such a fear factor attached to new technology?isolationThe writer Douglas Adams, creator of Dilbert, seems to think it all has to do with age. Technology that existed when we were born seems normal. Anything developed before we’re in our 30’s is deemed exciting, but whatever comes after that is seen with distrust. I can agree on some level with Adams on this point, it seems that age would certainly be a factor, but I believe it’s something deeper that is driving these views: fear.

Fear of Change, Understanding & Robots

To put it simply, it’s all about change. Technology is always changing and rapidly, which means we have to change with it or get left behind. The thing is, no one likes to change and this only gets more difficult as we age.

People tend to express the highest level of fear for things they’re dependent on but that they don’t have any control over, and that’s almost a perfect definition of technology.Christopher Bader

It starts to make a lot more sense when you look at it from the perspective of dependence and control. We all use technology, its a must in today’s world, but a majority of us have no clue how it works. That can be a little scary. Some may take it to a whole other level, with fears of robots taking over the world (not happening… anytime soon at least), but others have more valid concerns.

Are we becoming over-reliant on technology? Are we missing out on important parts of life, while we sit in front of a screen? Are we forgetting what it means to be human?

We all face such situations everyday, where we wonder how all this technology may not be such a great thing. With people texting while they drive or watching TV for hours upon hours. It’s not all good, but there are two sides to the story. The positive side is often overlooked when it comes to media criticisms.

Why We Need To Stop Being Afraid

Technology has democratized creation. It has made education accessible world wide. It has enabled worldwide, instant communication. It has found cures to diseases. It has discovered new sources of energy. There are so many positive advances that technology has brought about that it becomes hard to overlook it’s merit, despite the prevailing narrative. 

Through it all, there is a simple thing we need to remember: technology is a tool. It is up to us to use it correctly because the value to be gained from it is immeasurable.

Technology is a useful servant, but a dangerous master.

So when it comes to new technology, even as we all get older, be more open minded. Notice the value it derives. Embrace the changes it brings about. Don’t give into fear or worry about the potential changes. They will be coming anyways, and if history is any indicator, we’ve done a pretty good job adjusting to it as it does.

The next cycle will probably be starting soon, with the rise of virtual reality. Be ready to embrace it.

Image via flickr

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