This was originally published on Pessimists Archive.

The early 1900s was a time of great technological progress, the world was changing rapidly thanks to the newly popular safety bicycle, the automobile, the growth of telephone ownership among many other things. All this technological and resulting cultural change begged a question: how was this change changing us?

In 1906 the St-Louis Post Dispatch ran a full page editorial titled ‘Cauffeur’s Wrist, Typewriter Back and Telephone Ear’ – the headline was set in beautiful cursive font and the page was covered in illustration and photographs. The piece began by listing “ailments caused by new inventions” to illustrate “How Progress Is Adding to Our Physical Burdens.”

For every modern convenience was listed an ailment that results. There was typewriter back, phonograph mind, electric light eye, photographers dermatitis, bicycle blisters, motor mania, sky scraper neck and telephone ear to name only a few. The article posited that:

“Twentieth century inventions are changing he normal human into an abnormal specimen – cogs of flesh and bone to fit smoothly into cogs of steel and iron.”

Typewriting would give most strenuous users a ‘hump’, a condition the St-Louis Dispatch claimed 90% of stenographers and typewriters in St. Louis suffered from. The ‘telephone ear’ was supposedly afflicting any person who “uses a telephone many times a day” leading to over-sensitive ears. ‘Motor Eye’ was conditioned some opticians had noticed, the results of those “continually rushing through the country on a motor car” which “causes the eye to take a too rapid impression of the things it encounters.” Repetitive strain injury in telegraph operators and automobile chauffeur’s was considered “the latest manifestation of the genius of evil in modern invention”, as if repetitive tasks weren’t an issue in a less mechanized age.

Just as the early 1900s saw many rapid changes in technology and culture, today we are equally enamoured and scared. We suffer from a collective form of hypochondria born of technophobia. Researchers love to ask provocative and troubling questions about how these new things are changing us, newspapers equally love to report on them – amplifying even the smallest and most insignificant studies.

The 1906 article we explored today shows a paranoid cynicism about modernity and resulting hypochondria can blind us from what could go write, in a time of technological progress that would see the 19th Century be the most prosperous in human history – they missed the opportunities that lay ahead while failing to identify any of the legitimate risks. Let’s not make the same mistake.