Proof That Technology Hasn’t Changed Who We Are

Sure, we’re media-obsessed, anti-social crazy people, but we’ve always been this way.

Improv Everywhere / Via

Since the smartphone boom put tiny computers in hundreds of millions of pockets, there’ve been countless critics eager to point out that invasive technology is changing our lives for the worse, and worse, changing who we are. It’s turning us into selfish, anti-social automatons, they say, again and again and again.

But how much has really changed?

5. Here’s a group of fine young lads hanging out in Chicago in 1907, enjoying the paper. Look familiar?

Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum / Via

6. Looks an awful lot like these college students killing time, right?

Chloe Lim / Via

Iowa State University students in 2012.

7. 1907 Chicagoans again:

Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum / Via

9. We’ve always been pretty into our media. Here’s a 1914 painting of the New York City subway:

Via Mora, F. Luis (Francis Luis), 1874-1940 / Mid-Manhattan Picture Collection / New York City — subways / NYPL

10. And here’s some NYC subway riders in 2007:

11. Our desire to ignore others and consume our media is especially noticeable now on public transit…

My first flight where it's legal to use electronics during takeoff. So, naturally, I'm using 3 at the same time!

— Nick Bilton (@nickbilton)

Nick Bilton


My first flight where it’s legal to use electronics during takeoff. So, naturally, I’m using 3 at the same time!

/ Via

12. …then again, looks like it’s always been that way…

"All this technology is making us antisocial" (via Reddit)

— Joel Pavelski (@joelcifer)

Joel Pavelski


“All this technology is making us antisocial” (via Reddit)

/ Via

13. And while there’s no doubt the world is changing…

Flickr: alui0000 Alfred Lui / Creative Commons

London Tube riders in 2010.

14. …our behavior remains very much the same.

Flickr: 49093093@N02 Teresa Avellanosa / Creative Commons

Madrid subway riders in 1960.

15. Need more proof? The webcomic xkcd collected a whole host of quotes from the past 150 years that show how we’ve always been afraid of change. Here’s one:

The art of conversation is almost a lost one. People talk as they ride bicycles — at a rush — without pausing to consider their surroundings…wWhat has been generally understood as cultured society is rapidly deteriorating into basebsss and voluntary ignorance. The profession of letters is so little understood, and so far from being seriously appreciated, that…Newspapers are full, not of thoughtful honestly expressed public opinion on the affairs of the nation, but of vapid personalities interesting to none save gossips and busy bodies.

-Marie Corelli, Free Opinions, Freely Expressed, 1905.

16. So if you think we’re terrible now, it’s probably only because you didn’t realize we were terrible before.

Big h/t to this Reddit thread.

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Charlie Warzel is a senior writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Warzel reports on and writes about the intersection of tech and culture.
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