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"...The counterculture of the '60's was rural, romanticized, anti-science, anti-tech. But there was always a lurking contradiction at its heart, symbolised by the electric guitar. -- Mirrorshades, Bruce Sterling.

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Technophobia is the fear or dislike of advanced technology or complex devices, especially computers. The term is generally used in the sense of an irrational fear, but others contend fears are justified. It is the opposite of technophilia. First receiving widespread notice during the Industrial Revolution, technophobia has been observed to affect various societies and communities throughout the world. This has caused some groups to take stances against some modern technological developments in order to preserve their ideologies. In some of these cases, the new technologies conflict with established beliefs, such as personal values in simplicity and modest lifestyles. A number of examples of technophobic ideas can be found in multiple forms of art, ranging from literary works such as Frankenstein to films like Metropolis and Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs. Many of these works portray the darker side of technology as seen by the technophobic. As technologies become increasingly complex and difficult to understand, people are more likely to harbor anxieties relating to their use of modern technologies.


Technophobia began to gain national and international attention as a movement with the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. With the development of new machines able to do the work of skilled craftsmen using unskilled, underpaid women and children, those who worked a trade began to fear for their livelihoods. In 1675, a group of weavers destroyed machines that replaced their jobs. By 1727, the destruction had become so prevalent Parliament made the demolition of machines a capital offense. This action, however, did not stop the tide of violence. The Luddites, a group of anti-technology workers, united under the name “Ludd” in March 1811, removing key components from knitting frames, raiding houses for supplies, and petitioning for trade rights while threatening greater violence. Poor harvests and food riots lent aid to their cause by creating a restless and agitated population for them to draw supporters from.

The nineteenth century was also the beginning of modern science, with the work of Louis Pasteur, Charles Darwin, Gregor Mendel, Michael Faraday, Henri Becquerel, and Marie Curie, and inventors such as Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. The world was changing rapidly, too rapidly for many, who feared the changes taking place and longed for a simpler time. The Romantic movement exemplified these feelings. Romantics tended to believe in imagination over reason, the “organic” over the mechanical, and a longing for a simpler, more pastoral times. Poets like William Wordsworth and William Blake believed that the technological changes that were taking place as a part of the industrial revolution were polluting their cherished view of nature as being perfect and pure.

After World War II, a fear of technology continued to grow, catalyzed by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With nuclear proliferation and the Cold War, people began to wonder what would become of the world now that humanity had the power to destroy it. In the post-WWII era, environmentalism also took off as a movement. The first international air pollution conference was held in 1955, and in the 1960s, investigations into the lead content of gasoline sparked outrage among environmentalists. In the 1980s, the depletion of the ozone layer and the threat of global warming began to be taken more seriously.

Technophobia in arts

An early example of technophobia in fiction and popular culture is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. It has been a staple of science fiction ever since, exemplified by movies like Fritz Lang's "Metropolis", which offer an example of how technophobia can occur, and Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times", in which people are reduced to nothing but cogs in the machinery, a product of new industrial techniques like the assembly line. This persisted through the 1950s, with the fears of nuclear weapons and radiation leading to giant insects of monster movies, as well as cautionary tales like "The Day the Earth Stood Still", and into the 1960s, with the likes of The Hulk. It was joined by fears of superintelligent machines, and rebellion against them, which was a recurring theme of Star Trek, from the original series to "ST:TNG" to "Voyager" in the 1990s.

Also in the 1960s, the film Omega Man (loosely based on the Richard Matheson novel I am Legend) showed a world scarred by biological warfare and only a handful of humans and a cult of mutants remain alive. Charlton Heston's character is a scientist who is being targeted by the mutants who wish to destroy all science and machinery due to their technophobic beliefs. Technophobia is also thematic in Walter M. Miller's novel A Canticle for Leibowitz, where nuclear war produces an attempt to stamp out science itself as held to be responsible.

In the 1970s, "The Forbin Project" and "Demon Seed" also offered samples of domination by computers. Also in the 1970s, Rich Buckler created Deathlok, a cyborg revivified by a madman as a slave killing machine, a dark twist on Frankenstein.

Technophobia achieved commercial success in the 1980s with the movie The Terminator, in which a computer becomes self-aware, and decides to kill all humans. Blade Runner shows us how human replicas were able to live on Earth, portraying technology gone wrong in "replicants" unhappy with their man-made limitations which demand they be "modified". "Star Trek: Voyager" introduced another twist, when "surplus" EMHs, such sophisticated expert systems as to be almost indistinguishable from human, being effectively reduced to slavery, while other similar systems were turned into sentient prey.

More recently there have been movies like I, Robot, The Matrix Trilogy, WALL-E, and the Terminator sequels. Shows such as Doctor Who - most specifically in the episode Robots of Death - have also tackled the issue of technophobia, with a character in Robots of Death displaying a great fear of robots due to their lack of body language, described by the Fourth Doctor as giving them the appearance of 'dead men walking'. Series consultant Kit Pedler also used this fear as a basis for the inspiration of classic Doctor Who monsters the Cybermen, with the creatures being inspired by his own fear of artificial limbs becoming so common that it would become impossible to know when someone had stopped being a man and become simply a machine. Virtuosity speaks of a virtual serial killer who manages to escape to the real world. He goes on a rampage before he is inevitably stopped. This is a true technophobic movie in that its main plot is about technology gone wrong. It introduces a killer who blatantly destroys people.

In the Pixar film WALL-E humans are shown to have evolved into obese, docile, and lazy people as a result of robots now be able to do everything for them.

Godfrey Reggio's Qatsi trilogy also deals heavily with issues of technophobia. The idea of keeping the "thinkers" and "workers" separate shows us that even the people who embraced technology feared the potential of it in some way.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Technophobia" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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