Pessimists Archive

Pessimists Archive

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Everything we love today was once considered scar…


Introducing Wild Wild Tech
Aug 5 • 9 min
Hear the most bizarre stories about how technology is shaping culture on Wild Wild Tech: https://link.chtbl.com/WWTThePessmists_Archive Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
What Will We Fear Next?
Jul 30 • 52 min
Covid changed many people’s relationship with technology… so what comes next? We explore why technophobia always happens in cycles, how we misuse science in a way that amplifies fear, and what everyone will be concerned about in five to 10 years. Get in…
The Mystery of the Shared Earbuds
Jun 25 • 44 min
What does it take for two different people to find common ground? To answer that, we dig into a nine-year-old mystery. In 2011, two very different guys shared a pair of earbuds on the New York City subway. A photo of them went viral multiple times … but…
Why We Hate Being Told What To Do
May 28 • 42 min
People are refusing to wear masks during a pandemic. Why? To understand, we rewind to the “Anti-Mask League” of 1919 and to the opposition to seatbelt laws in the 1990s. Then we answer the big question: If people won’t listen to mandates, what *will* they…
The Good That Comes From A Pandemic
Apr 30 • 47 min
Covid-19 has interrupted our world, but it’s also likely to improve it. After all, history shows that massive disruption is followed by massive opportunity. So what’s in store for us now? In this episode, we learn the surprising consequences of past…
Refrigerators vs. Ice: A Cold, Cold War
Mar 26 • 46 min
Refrigerators are unnatural, unhealthy, and probably just a fad — at least, that’s according to the people who once sold ice. But the history of refrigeration actually raises some very real, very relevant questions: What’s natural? How should innovation…
Birthday Parties
Feb 27 • 43 min
Today, people complain about self-obsessed millennials. Yesterday, they complained about children celebrating their birthdays. When the birthday party became popular in the 19th century, people worried that it would corrupt community, spoil children, and…
Faces, Faces, Faces!
Jan 23 • 50 min
Do you suffer from automobile face? What about airplane face? Or moving-picture face? These are just some examples from a strange historical pattern: For more than a century, people have claimed that new technologies are physically deforming our faces —…
Teddy Bears
Dec 5, 2019 • 48 min
Cute and cuddly, or a “horrible monstrosity” that’ll destroy humanity? In 1907, many people feared the worst—that this new toy would ruin young girls’ developing maternal instincts, and lead us to a terrible fate. This is the story of how the teddy bear…
Mirrors
Oct 24, 2019 • 51 min
Vanity was born when the mirror was discovered. That’s what the Chicago Record wrote in 1895, around the time when mirrors became a household item. People (and especially women) were condemned for looking in the mirror, and accused of being sinful. But…
Scooters (and Roller Skates)
Sep 12, 2019 • 47 min
As cities freak out over e-scooters today, it’s worth looking back at when these devices were actually new. Why did people love motorized scooters in 1915, what’s different a century later, and what does all of this have to do with roller skates? They’re…
Comic Books
Jul 25, 2019 • 48 min
In the 1950s, America declared war on the comic book. People feared that they’d turn children into hardened criminals, and so opponents burned them in large piles, states banned them, and the U.S. Senate investigated their dangers. The man leading the…
Elevator
Jun 20, 2019 • 41 min
The elevator has had a lot of ups and downs. (Sorry, sorry.) As the innovation gained popularity in the late 1800s, it had a profound effect on the way we organize our cities and ourselves. It was also blamed for a rise in crime, for causing something…
Kids These Days
May 15, 2019 • 46 min
Kids! They’re lazy, narcissistic, and disrespectful — or so says the older generation. But when you look back through history, you’ll discover that older generations have been saying a version of the same thing for thousands of years. Our question is:…
The Waltz
Apr 22, 2019 • 39 min
Why are new dances always so scandalous? Grinding, freak dancing, swing dancing, rock-n-roll — each had their opponents. But at the beginning of it all was the waltz. We may think of the waltz as classy and performative today, but as it gained popularity…
Telegraph
Mar 7, 2019 • 45 min
“We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas,” wrote Henry David Thoreau, “but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.” And he was hardly a lone voice that questioned, feared, or outright opposed…
Chain Stores
Feb 8, 2019 • 39 min
When a frothy American congressman wanted to make his case against chain stores, he reached for the greatest comparison of evil he could think of: “Let’s keep Hitler’s methods of government and business in Europe,” he said. And that pretty well sums up…
The Novel
Oct 15, 2018 • 39 min
Novels are to entertainment what orange juice is to Coca Cola — a wholesome alternative to modern vices. Or at least, that’s how we think of them now. But long before television and videogames, or before comic books and D&D, novels were the new and scary…
The Subway
Aug 6, 2018 • 26 min
“A big humbug” — that’s how one critic described America’s first subway system. Other opponents were more extreme. It would release dangerous underground air, some said. It would disturb the dead, others said. A religious leader in Boston declared it a…
Margarine
Jun 18, 2018 • 41 min
Whatever you think you know of margarine, put that aside. When the spread was first invented in the mid-1800s, it was made very differently — and solved very real problems for the nutrient-starved people of the time. That sent the dairy industry into a…
Electricity
Apr 9, 2018 • 43 min
As electricity began to light our world, resistance came from curious corners. “God had decreed that darkness should follow light, and mortals had no right to turn night into day,” wrote one German newspaper. “A lamp for a nightmare,” declared a Scottish…
Pinball
Jan 27, 2018 • 32 min
Pinball was banned from the 1940s to 1970s in many cities across America. New York City’s mayor made a show of bashing pinball machines with a hammer. Church ladies in suburban Chicago went on vigilante raids, ripping games out of stores. In this episode,…
Coffee
Nov 20, 2017 • 30 min
For 500 years, a succession of kings, sultans, and businessmen have tried to ban or destroy the world’s favorite caffeinated morning pick-me-up. Among their claims: Coffee makes you impotent! It destroys brain tissue! It attacks the nervous system! And…
Vaccinations
Sep 9, 2017 • 26 min
“One might suppose that the popular prejudice against vaccination had died out by this time,” one writer complains. It sounds like a lament from today, but in fact, it’s from 1875. Anti-vaxxers may seem like a product of our fake-news, health-hysteria…
Chess
Jul 20, 2017 • 24 min
For as long as chess has been around — and we’re talking 1,500-plus years — someone has tried to ban it. But why? The answer is complicated, but it begins here: For ages, global and moralistic leaders have viewed games as a threat worth quashing. Contact…
Bicycle
Jun 8, 2017 • 33 min
When the bicycle debuted in the 1800s, it was blamed for all sorts of problems—from turning people insane to devastating local economies to destroying women’s morals. We explore why the bicycle scared so many people, and what happens when the opposite of…
Umbrella
Apr 11, 2017 • 22 min
In the 1750s, a London man took to the streets holding an umbrella—and braved jeers, rock-throwing haters, and even a cab that tried to run him over. We explore why rainy England was once so anti-umbrella, and whether that fight was really ever settled.…
Horseless Carriage
Mar 2, 2017 • 28 min
When the car began replacing the horse, pessimists didn’t treat it like a great new tool. They called it “the devil wagon,” and said its mission was to destroy the world. We explore why the horseless carriage was so scary—and what it took to finally put…
Recorded Music
Jan 9, 2017 • 34 min
In the early 1900s, recorded music was accused of muddling our minds, destroying art, and even harming babies. What was everyone so afraid of? In this episode, we dig into the early days of music and see what the hysterics properly predicted—and what they…
The Good Old Days
Nov 12, 2016 • 34 min
When exactly were the good ol’ days? In this new episode of the Pessimists Archive podcast, we go back in time to find out — exploring every moment that people claimed was a golden age, and trying to understand why, as Trump’s victory has shown, nostalgia…
The Walkman
Sep 12, 2016 • 23 min
Travel back to the 80s with us, where the portable cassette player was accused of turning people into “wind-up non-humans,” laws were passed to keep them on the streets, and one New Jersey man risked jail time for his right to walk with headphones. Learn…