Pinky Pie

Consider yourself warned & Me

Posted on: February 28, 2010

So many scares; so little time:

Scared yet? Don’t be.

Dr. Vaughan Bell, a neuropsychologist at King’s College in England, used those claims in an essay that appeared on the website: “Don’t Touch That Dial! A history of media technology scares, from the printing press to Facebook.”

Not a single shred of evidence underlies these stories, but they make headlines across the world because they echo our recurrent fears about new technology,” Dr. Bell said in his essay.

But it appears wariness about these new-fangled technologies is nothing new. History is riddled with fears of change.

Interviewed on On the Media, Dr. Bell talked about such scares going back 500 years.

He mentioned in particular:

  • Congrad Gessner, a 16th century Swiss biologist, who warned about the invention of the printing press. He cataloged every book in publication in the world, which he called Bibliotheca universalis. “Through this process he became absolutely outraged at what he called the ‘confusing and harmful abundance of books.’”
  • A hundred years later, a French statesman railed against newspapers as causing isolation. He was also concerned that people were spending their time in isolation and were no longer getting their news in church.
  • Radio was maligned for what it was doing to children:  “disturbing their fragile minds” because they were gathered around the radio listening to dreadful programs and not doing their homework.
  • Speaking of homework, there was a concern about compulsory education for children damaging children and a British psychiatrist even felt “excessive studying” was one of the main causes of insanity. (The good news is my children are very sane.)
  • Ancient Greeks, including Socrates, warned about the danger of writing things done. Socrates worried about the wrong allegory could be damaging to young minds.

As Dr. Bell said, the newest object of fear is how children are being damaged by over use of the Internet. Maybe it is because I spend so much time on the Internet, that I was happy to read and hear him say, that a meta-study, found “a change in our well-being of less than 0.1 percent.

(A meta-study is a comprehensive review of all evidence to date with a mathematical analysis to determine overall effect.)

So the best evidence to date shows that these things really aren’t doing us any damage, and yet, time and time again we see these fairly scary headlines appear in the media,” Dr. Bell said.

Apparently, any technology that develops before we are age 35 is acceptable. Newfangled stuff created after that time is dangerous. And how about that music that kids listen to today?

Health claims announced in big headlines and 24-hour news channels that later are found to be untrue. Evidently a scientist in the 1920s won the Nobel Prize for medicine for his research that parasites cause cancer. Oops. Not true, although some still claim it is true.

Did you hear about the sleep diet? You can lose weight while you sleep. It is true that weight is a great problem in the sleep deprived, but staying in bed all day does not make you thin unless you have some other underlying problem. And there unproven medical cures.

But the following is the truth:

One in eight women will develop breast cancer after reading this post.

Don’t be frightened, although it is true.  But you won’t catch cancer because you read this breast cancer blog.

Every woman has a one in eight chance in her lifetime of getting breast cancer. So even if you develop breast cancer 30 or 40 years from now (which I certainly hope you do NOT), it could be said that it was after you read this. The risk for men is much smaller, but men do get breast cancer.

So today’s word is don’t be scared by what you read, see or hear.  (Except for what you read here, of course.)


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