Fear of technology in the 19th century

The New York Times’ assessment of the telegraph in 1858: “Superficial, sudden, unsifted, too fast for the truth, must be all telegraphic intelligence. Does it not render the popular mind too fast for the truth? Ten days bring us the mails from Europe. What need is there for the scraps of news in ten minutes? How trivial and paltry is the telegraphic column?”

Amazing how each new technology brings a sense of fear and nostalgia to human beings. The article also mentions fears about the telephone (will make you deaf, 1904), radio (so much loud and unnecessary noise, 1924) and TV (people reported being spied on by their TV, 1937).

Internet of things in action: the ankle tag that reports alcohol level to the police

If you’re looking for a good example to explain the internet of things to someone, here is a golden one: the ankle tag that measures alcohol level and reports it to the police.

“[In London] people who repeatedly commit alcohol-related crimes will be forced to wear ankle tags that monitor their drinking by recording levels of alcohol in their sweat every half-hour […] If any trace of alcohol is detected, the ‘sobriety tag’ will send an alert to the offender’s probation officer, and the person may be called back to court and face fines or sentencing.”


The NYT explains the aim is “to relieve pressure on the criminal justice system”. But I think this could have the exact opposite effects, with endless arguments about how the sensors got it wrong, all those sensors who will “accidentally” become defective, people who will pretend someone dropped some whisky on their ankle, those who will go to underground bars in order to escape the mobile networks reporting their data, etc. Such a system is sure to create fascinating new behaviours and problems.

And add a bit of open data to that mix, spread the system to other countries, and there you are one step away of a realtime map of worldwide drunkenness…