Never in History

Today at lunch, two of my female colleagues were talking about an issue on one of the girls’ dormitories.  Apparently several girls had been handing in dead, dummy cellphones at 9:45pm, and keeping their active cellphones.

They were upset that the girls were violating the school’s rules and creed, and commiserating about how awful it all was.

I must admit, I probably turned up the heavy-reverb Voice of the Philosopher setting on my tone of voice a lot higher than it needed to go.  But I said,

Every time a new communications technology is invented, the authorities and powers that be hate it, and revile it.  They call it evil, and immoral, and they try to prevent its use.

Then they discover that their very opposition to the technology is on the verge of causing a collapse of their power and authority; and either they accept or co-opt the technology, or their authority collapses and new powers take their place.

Never in history, anywhere, is there an example of it being any other way.


One of the women asked me if I actually followed policy and collected cellphones every night.  I shrugged.  “I do,” I told them. “But there are eight cellphones in the box all the time, anyway. The kids never collect them back, because the phones they turn in aren’t the phones they actually use. I’m sure of it.”

I’m unsure, but I guess that at least one of them will see me as “part of the problem”, in that I know that students are bypassing an important school rule, and not doing anything about it.  The other left a little more thoughtful.

But really…  Internet, Television, Telephone, Radio, Telegraph, Printing Press… the list goes on and on.

Never in history has any existing power structure been able to stop the youthful adoption of a new communications technology.

Why should this one be any different?

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One comment

  1. I’m always heartened to see people treating bureaucratic rules as a source of irrationality to be routed around, and successfully managing to do so.

    At the hospital where I work, management issued a memo a couple of years ago announcing that the parking rules were really and truly going to be enforced–and this time we mean it! Anyone parking in a convenient side lot next to an entrance would be fined and/or towed. Naturally, everybody continued parking in the same places–every single person I talked to had either torn off their parking sticker long before, or never put it on in the first place.

    Just look at the managers in their little ivory tower, congratulating themselves on how well they have things in hand–their edicts all the while being trodden underfoot with contempt–and you can understand why Gosplan was unable to manage the Soviet economy.

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