Tag: moral panic

Don’t Panic! How Change to Technology Leads to Change in Behavior

A major concern that has been carried from the past to today is the idea of moral panic. Baym describes moral panic as “anxieties over uncontrollable social forces become the focus of efforts to understand a new cultural trend” (Baym, 2015, Making new media make sense, 49). In the eighteen hundreds, with the invention of the telegraph, people were worried about how this would impact relationships in business. Before the telegraph, the only way to do business was travelling and going face-to-face with a client. As presented in Carey’s “Technology and Ideology: The Case of the Telegraph”, the aftermath of the telegraph and railroads has created a “new form of organization of essentially impersonal relations” (Carey, 2009, Technology and Ideology, 4). This invention of the telegraph influenced the way that business was handled and therefore, the worry that business would be completely altered and perhaps in a negative way. Later, it was the fear that the telegraph would be a negative invention for women. As one woman accepted a marriage proposal over the telegraph and turning down the man that was waiting for her in the bar (Marvin, 1988, Community and Class Order, 73). This changed human behavior because the hand of a woman became a race to whoever was able to ask her first instead of the process of being in person and asking for marriage. This also impacted the confidence of men. The man on the telegraph did not have to worry about looking the woman in the eye, whereas the man who was asking in person would have to work up the courage to ask the woman, and in the case Marvin presented, the man who took longer to work up the courage missed his chance to the man with the telegraph. The idea of relationships over the telegraph also worried the fathers of the women. Marvin says “traditional courtship protected traditional young women from inappropriate advances by placing insurmountable obstacles in the path of all but the most devoted swains” (Marvin, 1988, Community and class order, 71). Therefore, the idea of having relationships over the telegraph was a fear of these fathers and therefore, the moral panic surrounding the telegraph had to do with women and the new capabilities that the telegraph offered in shaping human behavior and the desire for relationships.

An aspect of moral panic that arose in the 1950s had to do with the television. Similarly, to the telegraph, people feared this new invention, mostly because they did not understand it, but knew it had capabilities never seen before. The New York Times wrote on the ways that people were affected by the television sets. One man, “shot his television set…because it was murdering his sleep,” which demonstrates how people in the 1950s were worried about the television and the impact the television had in their everyday life (New York Times, 1952, Obviously Self-Defense, 31). Human behavior was influenced by the introduction of the television. People became suspicious of their televisions and feared the capabilities which turned people to be irate and violent.

The original New York Times article is posted below:


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