A Snippet of History: Technology, Excitement, and Fear

As the train approached, everyone in the room freaked out. Some ran out of the building.

I should clarify: a train wasn’t actually there. It was in a movie. Specifically, a short silent film called L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat (Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat [Station]).

L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat

But people freaked out because it was the 19th century, film was new, and the crowd couldn’t help but feel awe (and terror) at the new technology 

That story still gets passed on today, a century later, even though historical scholars believe it is somewhat bogus folklore. It’s still noteworthy to me because it reflects one narrative about humankind’s struggle with technology — a narrative where we’re excited and curious about tech, but also sometimes fearful.

Vine Video: Short Content With Century-Old Roots

Whether we’re talking about Twitter updates in 140 characters or Vine video clips no longer than six seconds, many people are clamoring to communicate more through less.

Some critics say Twitter statuses and short Vine videos are gloomy reminders that society can no longer focus. Modernity is killing our attention span, they say. Just look at this super-short aberration!

I’m not here to argue the finer points of dwindling mental capacity. I haven’t done enough research to take a stand. But I do think it’s interesting to note that abbreviated media isn’t exactly cutting edge. It has been around a while.

A man using a kinetoscope

A publicity photo for the Edison Kinetoscope

More than a century, actually.

Quick history lesson:

At the end of the 19th century, Thomas Edison — yep, the guy who developed the electric light bulb — invented an early motion picture camera (called a Kinetograph) and a device to view the films (Kinetoscope). The films were short and sweet; Edison suspected people couldn’t endure the “flickers” for long.

The new technology was a hit.

Kinetoscope parlors started popping up around the country. People were eager to spend their hard-earned money to catch a few seconds, maybe a minute, of moving images. Continue reading