Technology has given us everything from smart TVs that can hear you talking to self-driving cars, but before we became the digitally-driven society we are today, fear of new technology commonly served as one of the greatest threats to innovation. What we see as dated and relatively harmless inventions of the past were once the new technology that people freaked out about. Without an efficient way to educate the masses about the latest, hottest new inventions of their era, paranoia and confusion quickly took the place of logic and curiosity for many consumers. While many of these inventions are now seen as revolutionary and their modern counterparts are a part of our daily lives, there was once a time when these gadgets were some of the most frightening topics of discussion.
The Television Became Even Scarier Than the Radio
Everything people feared about the radio was amplified with the introduction of the television in 1927. There was a fear that radio would turn people away from reading or having intimate conversations with one another; the television received that very same critique. Media historian Ellen Wartella told Slate that critics of the television insisted it would “hurt radio, conversation, reading, and the patterns of family living and result in the further vulgarization of American culture.”
Poor television was receiving backlash from both sides. Those who feared what technology might do to human interaction were opposed to the television and those who were optimistic about new technology, but had already invested in the world of radio, were afraid the new medium would tarnish their investments.
Filmmakers Pushed to Ban VHS in 1982Photo: Miramax
Even something as simple as a VHS tape was feared at one point in time, but this fear had little to do with health a lot more to do with greed. It was generally believed that the ability to record films would bring the entire movie industry to its knees. “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,” Motion Picture Association of America’s Jack Valenti told the US Government in an attempt to get VHS recorders completely banned and taken off the market in 1982. The comparison itself was a bit extreme to say the least, but Valenti didn’t stop there. He doubled down on his statement and insisted that VHS technology would cause the film industry to “bleed and bleed and hemorrhage.”
Authors Coined the Phrase "Computerphobia" in the 1990sPhoto: MGM
Today, almost everyone has a computer in their pocket, but when these machines were first introduced they spread a wave of panic and fear at a rapid pace. This fear of computers was so severe that “computerphobia” became an actual term. A 1996 book titled Women and Computers even explains the variety of phobias that surrounded computer. According to the text, “computerphobia” included everything from the “fear of physically touching the computer or of damaging what’s inside it” to “a reluctance to read or talk about computers.” The book also discusses the crippling fear of believing computers could replace people or enslave society as a whole.
Author Attacks Virtual Reality Back in 1992Photo: Universal Pictures
Virtual reality has only become available on a widespread consumer level of late, but the fear of this technology extends back more than two decades. “If you are in a virtual world and you have a model of your office and you pick up a virtual shotgun and blow your boss away because it might be amusing, then does that blur the line between activities you do in fantasy and the activities you do in real life,” questioned author Howard Rheingold in 1992.
It’s a concept that lives on even today. There is a widespread concern that virtual reality will cause people to live out violent fantasy which, in theory, would encourage them to carry out those behaviors in their real lives. Other fears of virtual reality fall in line with the usual critique of new technology—a negative impact on social skills and on the overall intelligence of its users.