Institutions and Their Fear of Mass Public Knowledge

Air pumps and electrical machines represent technological progression. When an expansion of technology becomes readily available to the general public, it advances the scope and knowledge of the people. Religious institutions and governments are focused on control and like to remain unquestioned. When a new scientific breakthrough develops causing cultural change, the authority and legitimacy of these institutions are challenged. Priestley’s notes “on the distortion of Christianity…dismantled contemporary Christian beliefs” (Johnson, 79). His ideas restructured the education system, something that people in power did not like. People who have power will do anything to keep it, and new scientific breakthroughs proving ideals wrong or obsolete make them vulnerable to collapse. The fear these institutions have are that the more available technologies become, the more power the average person will have. They believed that technology separated power in the society. “When those technologies arrived, in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the social transformation they unleashed was swift and violent” (Johnson 157). It was a loss of complete control and that made them afraid of even more advanced technology coming into light. A contemporary issue that I believe can relate to this idea is the invention of the internet and iPhones. These devises give the mass population the ability to communicate worldwide and see other people’s points of view at the touch of a button. The internet also makes information readily available, with no shortage of things to research. Of course, there are issues on both sides of the spectrum, but I believe that the creation of the internet and iPhones makes the concept of control inherently more difficult for religious groups and governments. Technological fixes are described by Johnson as a “cure-all.” He mainly believes in the benefits of them, but clearly has some doubts about it. He mentions the advancement of nuclear technology. It was designed as a tool to protect nations, but now the concept of mutually assured destruction (MAD) has become a real and scary fear. The reality of Normal Accident Theory also plays a role in the fear that, “stuff happens” and humans program technology, but humans make mistakes, and therefore so can machines. Hussmann focuses on negative aspects of techno-fixes and believes that failure can be catastrophic in the sense that they will most likely be irreversible. WWII was a particularly a dangerous time for tech advancement, because the country was undergoing a sense of technological determinism, launching our technology to be used for weapons of mass destruction as well as advanced planes, boats, and tanks. All this fast progression allows room for mistakes to happen.

2 thoughts on “Institutions and Their Fear of Mass Public Knowledge

  1. I completely agree with the point you made on why government powers and religions would fear such large technological advancements. I find it interesting that while Priestley is the one to experiment and create the developments, he is not the one that would consider keeping it from the general public. Like your second quote mentions, society is quickly overcome by new technology, especially today. Our new technology (phones, computers, etc) all allow us to stay updated on any and all advances (that the government allows of course) in technology and as the more wealthy and famous people start to use them the general public finds the need as well.


  2. I really like how you emphasized the push against the norms of the era in which Priestley lived, and how he made change for the better despite the massive pushback he received from pretty much everyone in a position of power. The perspective you’ve taken is quite close to Marx’s original intention for Communism, and I think those ideas are extremely important to consider when speaking about the history and development of mass produced technology.


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