Historical Precedents 101

People are notorious for overestimating both the novelty and tranformative potential of new technologies. So it’s good to be reminded now and again that the internet is not the first communication technology that disrupted relations between the famous and their followers. Here’s Carolyn Marvin writing about the telephone in her classic book When Old Technologies Were New (1988, pages 66-67):

Not even the famous, those who are widely known but personally remote, were exempt from the reorganization of social geography that made socially distant persons seem accessible and familiar. In contrast to Scientific American‘s utopian yearning for a future community where telephones made everyone available to everyone else was a businessman’s account, quoted in Western Electrician, of the telephone “maniacs” who plagued the governer of New York, Chauncey Depew: “Everytime they see anything about him in the newspapers, they call and tell him ‘what a fine letter he wrote’ or ‘what a lovely speech he made,’ or ask if this or that report is true; and all this from people who, if they came to his office, would probably never say more than ‘Good Morning.’

“Telephone maniacs?” Doesn’t sound at all like “internet saddos” now does it?

The year of that quote? 1897.

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