This Weirdly Accurate Cartoon From 1906 Totally Predicted Our iPhone Obsession

Public Domain

The Public Domain Review, a blog which, as its name suggests, mines things in the public domain for historical gems, found a British satirical cartoon of a man and a woman ignoring each other as they absorb themselves in their portable telegraph machines.

Public Domain

The caption reads:

These two figures are not communicating with one another. The lady receives an amatory message, and the gentleman some racing results.

Basically, the cartoon is saying, "The way things are going now, next year people will become alienated from each other because of our over-dependence on communication technology!"

Yes, people have been scared about this kind of thing for over a hundred years.

Every generation is skeptical of the next and distrustful of how technology will affect society.

Let me remind you that at one point "novels" were considered frivolous and indulgent and would make us frivolous and indulgent. For a long time they were considered more appropriate for women to read, because fiction — as opposed to the heavily editorialized, biased and largely made-up western-rich-white-man history books men packed their studies with — was considered "feminine."

Now, novels aren't really "new technology," obviously, but you get my point. Human beings have always hated change.

The radio was heralded as the machine that would make us all brain-dead and disconnected. Then it was movies. Then it was television. Then it was, I don't know, video games and Walkmen. Then it was emailing and internet chat rooms. And now it's smartphones.

Alec MacDonald

With each of these things,  people feared we were becoming more disconnected, less present, more inhuman. And yet, whenever the next thing came around, we've collectedly mourned the irrelevance of the last piece of technology, which, in its time, had also been deemed brutally harmful to our fragile, distractible psyches.

I can think of no better example of the cyclical nature of this paranoia, and how naturally human it is, than that satirical cartoon, which was published literally a century ago, and mimics all the same stuff we're still afraid of.

Alec MacDonald

By the way, the things sticking out of their heads in the cartoon are supposed to be antennas. Yes, at one point, the paranoia of Luddites was extremely imaginative (to be clear: no one ever had hat-telegraphs).

So I think we should try and relax about the internet and phones. Surely they'll have an effect on us and how we interact, but we've been shit at interacting with each other from day one after we genocided all the Neanderthals.

Cell phones and Tinder aren't going to move the needle of our inadequacy that much.

Citations: NY Mag