Tuesday 8 August 2017
The middle classes have conniption fits over every new gadget and every new fad, as if they’d never seen anything new before. Which is odd, because capitalism depends on endless novelty. But the Upwards are appalled every time.
They make predictions about the terrible harm the innovation will do. And then they identify a special innovation disease…
They usually get over it in 10 years, though some still say they “don’t do Facebook because I don’t know how it works”. It’s not done to notice that the Smartphone flap is the same flap we had about the Internet, television, radio and the telephone.
Upwards can’t just join things, or buy things – they have to “succumb” or “give in”. I finally succumbed and: bought myself an iPad, Blackberry Curve, Moleskine notebook; joined Twitter, created a Tumblr, turned on CNN, got SKY, bought Emily a mini balloon. (I’ll never understand Protestant guilt.)
Secretly, they think they ought to be carving all their own tools out of wood with a home-made flint knife. They have food processors and Mac books and tablets and Smartphones – but they can always project their tech disapproval onto the new phenomenon. Is this “virtue signalling”?
Prediction: TV will rot our childrens’ brains and turn them into zombies.
Since the 50s and 60s, TV has been accepted seamlessly into middle-class lives. It never rotted anyone’s brain, or ruined anyone’s eyesight.
Policing: You must watch TV with the lights out or it’ll damage your eyes. Sit at least 15 feet away, you’ll see better from there. (Probably true for middle-aged people.)
SMARTPHONESUpwards are now policing their children's Smartphone use, and writing about it in the broadsheets. "All screen activities are linked to less happiness", declares an article saying no good will come of these things. And they turn children into zombies. Kate Winslet bans “devices” from her home, like our French teacher who wouldn’t let her children read comics, back in the 60s.
The Great Tellytubby Flap is now forgotten, and there is no sign of a blighted Tellytubby generation speaking in baby talk.
Jet travel was presumed to be evil in a uniquely modern way. Vicars preached sermons about the “jet age” and the irresponsible “jet set” who can always “jet off” somewhere else.
PAPER TISSUES Vicars were even upset about Kleenex, and preached sermons about the "throwaway, disposable society".
They can cook your innards if you leave the door open, it’s not real heat, the food isn’t really cooked, it gets as hot as a nuclear reactor, it cooks from the inside out (thanks to Giles Coren).
THE CHANNEL TUNNEL
We can’t have a channel tunnel because rabid continental foxes will invade Britain. (We’ve moved on to “Driverless cars may be hit by leaping deer”, and “Driverless cars can’t recognise kangaroos”.)
In 1674 the Women's Petition Against Coffee was filed on the grounds that coffee made men impotent, gossipy & “'Frenchified”.
Charles II not only banned coffeehouses, but also forbade people from selling coffee, chocolate, sherbet, and tea from any shop or house.
A 1706 pamphlet warned of the dangers of coffee, chocolate and tea.
In 1822 William Cobbett wrote that tea leads women into prostitution and has boys "lurking in bed".
A 19th century cookbook for the poor advised parents that sweetened white sauce was better for your children than “a sloppy mess of tea”.
"After that dreadfully cold place, what I really want is gallons of hot tea, if you, as a nerve specialist, can bear the thought of it.'' (Whose Body?, Dorothy Sayers)
Now we complain about coffee-shop chains: ubiquitous, tax-avoiding, worker-exploiting, and the coffee is sweet and milky.
The potato was denounced from the pulpit because it’s not mentioned in the Bible, and besides, they might give you leprosy.
Tomatoes (“love apples”) were thought to be poisonous.
(The middle classes have lost their fear of exotic vegetables, but now they need a new one every few months to stay ahead of the game.)
Trains shouldn’t exceed 30 miles an hour because the human body can’t stand such speeds. You might end up with "railway spine".
We can’t employ women in business – they’ll grow beards!
In the 20s, a pundit opined that if women got any thinner they'd all become lesbians.
In 1921, the Ladies Home Journal wrote that jazz music "stimulated the half crazed barbarian to the vilest deeds. It is harmful & dangerous". (They said much the same about rock'n'roll.)
Biros will ruin children’s handwriting.
Biological washing powder digests dirt – it might digest you! (60s)
Premarital sex will cause the breakdown of society! (60s. Now even fundamentalist Christians think it’s OK if you’re engaged.)
Speech-to-text will make typists redundant. (It’s hardly used. Secretaries were made redundant by bosses typing their own letters and memos into a computer. And still schoolchildren don’t get taught to touchtype properly.)
Technology will make journalists redundant, citizen journalists will take their place. Reality: BBC uses pix by "weather watchers", and a lot of “amateur video”.
Computers cause computer addiction. The Internet causes sex addiction. Or just Internet addiction.
When mobile phones first came in, when – about 20 years ago? We were told not to leave them plugged in overnight, and not to leave the charger connected to the power because it wastes energy. James Thurber had an aunt who thought electricity leaked out of empty sockets…
Other people use their phones to Instagram pictures of their food. I only use mine to check my blood pressure.
Upwards are still asking languidly: “What is the point of Tumblr? Or LinkedIn? Or Pinterest?” or something else that has been around for years despite lacking their approval.
When videos were new and expensive, only a few people had them. A friend gave a party to watch the Agatha Christie episodes she’d recorded. People thought they should turn on something for guests, as they used to turn on “light music”. But you don’t really want the York Mysteries over breakfast or Wallace and Gromit over dinner.
Whenever a vast, destroyed work of art is 3D printed, an Upward writes an article saying that this is wrong because the money would be better spent on young, contemporary artists, etc. Their real problem is that 3D printing is done by a machine and therefore vulgar. And these things are so big, and so popular, and they're in a public place where crowds of people can come and admire them.
Did doctors ever see a flood of patients with railway spine, hula hoop back, platform shoe ankle or texter’s thumb?
Miniskirts cause cystitis, frostbite, chapped thighs and fat thighs.
Mobile phones/bras/deodorants give you cancer.
The Twist causes slipped discs. (It was a popular dance of the 60s.)
Previous modern health worries dissipated when the predicted health mayhem never emerged and the feared exotic agents became thoroughly familiar. (New Scientist Oct 6 2012)
More here, and links to the rest.