In the past two weeks, many young people have fallen under a strange spell. They meander around cities with their phones held aloft in search of the little fantastic animals known as Pokémon. Absorbed in Pokémon Go, an “augmented reality” mobile game in which people must move around in the real world to catch virtual animals, they are generally oblivious to their surroundings.
Almost as a rule, this is an affliction of the young. According to a newly released report by StartApp, a platform that collects mobile social data, 92 percent of the game’s current players are under the age of 35. Its popularity is enough to make you wonder if this is what the future will look like: Older people still stuck in an older world, and young people ensconced in a newer, augmented version.
Kid these days live their lives amid strange and sometimes disturbing new technologies, and it’s hard for adults to know how these developments might change or potentially compromise life for children. But it’s also good to remember that, as unique as snapping and augmented reality appear to be, this situation isn’t new. Older generations have always been suspicious of new technologies or social changes corrupting their youth.
In fact, this even has a specific term: “juvenoia.” In a 2011 paper, sociologist David Finkelhor coined the word to describe “an exaggerated fear about the influence of social change on children and youth.”
He offers a few possible explanations for why this fear arises: It may be evolutionary impulses, and our desire to protect children from environments that we don’t understand and could potentially be dangerous. It could be partially because of generational conflict that comes from parents and children having different experiences and competing interests. And it could stem from parental nostalgia, the tendency to view one’s own past more fondly or positively than it perhaps deserves to be.
Finkelhor has primarily used the term to talk about fears that the Internet is making life more dangerous for children, but he also mentions that this tendency to rail about “children these days” is a much older preoccupation. In his paper, Finkelhor cites a quote attributed to Peter the Hermit, a priest during the First Crusade, which could really come from any era: “The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything.”
Comments like these aren’t so uncommon in history. From Plato to the 1950s, here are seven examples of when people worried about new trends or technologies affecting the youth of that day.
The waltz, 1816
In an 1816 issue, the Times of London decried a new “indecent foreign dance” seen at the English court. “It is quite sufficient to cast one's eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs, and close compressure of the bodies ... to see that it is far indeed removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females ... we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal a contagion,” the paper said.
In 1859, the magazine Scientific American published a critique of an amusement of “a very inferior character” that was sweeping the nation, robbing “the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler acquirements, while it affords no benefit whatever to the body. Chess has acquired a high reputation as being a means to discipline the mind, but persons engaged in sedentary occupations should never practice this cheerless game; they require outdoor exercises — not this sort of mental gladiatorship,” the magazine said.
Cheaper postage, 1871
In 1871, an article in the Sunday magazine (which was included in a great xkcd cartoon) claimed that “the art of letter-writing is fast dying out,” in part because of a decrease in the price of postage that was encouraging people to write shorter, more frequent and, according to the author, more thoughtless letters.
“When a letter cost nine pence, it seemed but fair to try to make it worth nine pence,” the author writes, in a critique that could easily describe children texting today. “Now, however, we think we are too busy for such old-fashioned correspondence. We fire off a multitude of rapid and short notes, instead of sitting down to have a good talk over a real sheet of paper.”
Etchings and photogravure, 1892
Those crazy children and their etchings. An article in the Journal of the Institute of Jamaica near the turn of the 20th Century disparaged the death of “the art of pure line engraving,” in which an artist would engrave an image into a plate that could then be used in a printing press, in favor of another type of more modern printmaking that used light-sensitive material and film positives to reproduce images.
“The art of pure line engraving is dying out. We live at too fast a rate to allow for the preparation of such plates as our fathers appreciated. If a picture catches the public fancy, the public must have an etched or a photogravure copy of it within a month or two of its appearance. The days when engravers were wont to spend two or three years over a single plate are for ever gone,” the author wrote.
In the Journal of Education and School, one early 20th Century educator complained that children were no longer taught to express their thoughts on the Latin and Greek classics orally, but rather would sit around at home with their family reading magazines. “Our modern family gathering, silent around the fire, each individual with his head buried in his favorite magazine, is the somewhat natural outcome of the banishment of colloquy from the school,” he wrote.
The movies, 1926
In the roaring 1920s, the growing popularity of the movies irked puritans, who worried that “the plastic minds of American youth” would unconsciously absorb the bad habits and moral standards of the cinema. As one weekly Christian magazine wrote at the time, “divorce scandals, hotel episodes, free love, all are passed over and condoned by the young. ... The eye-gate is the widest and most easily accessible of all the avenues of the soul; whatever is portrayed on the screen is imprinted indelibly upon the nation's soul.”
Comic books, 1940s and 1950s
After Batman and Superman were introduced on the eve of World War II, comic books became massively popular in America. But they were also widely viewed as a corrupting influence on children.
Sterling North, a book reviewer at the Chicago Daily News, wrote in 1940: “Badly drawn, badly written, and badly printed — a strain on the young eyes and young nervous systems — the effects of these pulp-paper nightmares is that of a violent stimulant. Their crude blacks and reds spoils a child's natural sense of color; their hypodermic injection of sex and murder make the child impatient with better, though quieter, stories. Unless we want a coming generation even more ferocious than the present one, parents and teachers throughout America must band together to break the `comic' magazine.”
In the 1950s, psychiatrist Frederick Wertham echoed these beliefs in his famous crusade against comic books, which he accused of breeding juvenile delinquency. Wertham carried out a seven-year study on the effects of comics — research that was later widely criticized — and tried to establish a rating system that would keep comic books out of the hands of children. Among his beliefs were that comic books perpetuated violence, misogyny and racism, that Batman and Robin’s relationship might encourage homosexual thoughts, and that Wonder Woman would make girls into lesbians.
Editorialists, religious leaders and politicians joined Wertham in excoriating comic books, and some communities organized public burnings. Ultimately, the movement encouraged the comic book industry to adopt a self-imposed censorship regime, under which they removed violent imagery and unsavory narratives.
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