16 July 2011

Technology and moral panic

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Genevieve Bell
Why is it that some technologies cause moral panic and others don’t? Why was the introduction of electricity seen as a terrible thing, while nobody cared much about the fountain pen?

According to Genevieve Bell, the director of Intel Corporation’s Interaction and Experience Research, we have had moral panic over new technology for pretty well as long as we have had technology. It is one of the constants in our culture.

“She has a sort of work-in-progress theory to work out which technologies will trigger panic, and which will not.
– It has to change your relationship to time.
– It has to change your relationship to space.
– It has to change your relationship to other people.

And, says Ms. Bell, it has to hit all three, or at least have the potential to hit them. […]

The problem, says Ms. Bell, is that cultures change far slower than technologies do. And because the rate of technological innovation is increasing, so too is the rate of moral panic.

When a new technology comes in, society has to establish norms about how to handle it. That is a long and slow process.”

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