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The Science Behind Technological Moral Panics

Why do some new technologies cause ripples and reactionary backlash in society but others slip into our daily lives almost entirely uncontested? It turns out there’s a rather specific combination of things the new technology must do to upset the public.

At Wired they highlight the work of Genevieve Bell and her studies of how society reacts to new technology:

Genevieve Bell believes she’s cracked this puzzle. Bell, director of interaction and experience research at Intel, has long studied how everyday people incorporate new tech into their lives. In a 2011 interview with The Wall Street Journal‘s Tech Europe blog, she outlined an interesting argument: To provoke moral panic, a technology must satisfy three rules.

First, it has to change our relationship to time. Then it has to change our relationship to space. And, crucially, it has to change our relationship to one another. Individually, each of these transformations can be unsettling, but if you hit all three? Panic!

Why We Freak Out About Some Technologies but Not Others [Wired]

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 11/2/12

Comments (2)

  1. Citrus Rain

    Ignoring the “relationship” part since I don’t think it’s always needed.

    Unity
    Time: Amount of time to switch to a window (when multiple instances are open) or a workspace using the mouse
    Space: Tiny bars spanning the top and bottom – now a tiny bar on top, BIG ONE on side

    Windows 8:
    Time: Remembering whatever the trick is that you just learned to show all apps
    Time: (on touchscreen) It’s like a 3 – 5 second long press to do a long click / right click
    Space: Tiles are huge; can’t grab as much information on where that program is you need.
    Space: (on touchscreen) Although (chrome at least) scrollbars are thicker, you can’t drag them. You really just drag the page. (so you go opposite)
    Time & Space: Charms menu & other hotcorners feel intrusive and you have to move your mouse out of the way
    Time & Space: Scrolling horizontally (and slowly)

  2. Rabo

    Or it has to be promoted by the media. SOPA would have passed by a huge margin if reddit and wikipedia hadnt told people about it, that’s when support was withdrawn. ACTA didn’t get a blackout, and it still going.

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