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Pessimists Archive

Author: PessimistsArc

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Why do people keep resisting new things? That’s the question Pessimists Archive tries to answer. In each episode, we travel back in time to the moment that a new technology or innovation was introduced—something that today we think of as totally commonplace!—and we explore why everyone was freaking out about it. Our hope is this: By seeing how repetitive and often silly yesterday's fears were, we can begin to defang today’s fears as well.

Pessimists Archive is hosted by Jason Feifer. Follow us on Twitter at @pessimistsarc, which is run by Louis Anslow. Our email is pessimistsarchive@gmail.com, and website is pessimists.co.
26 Episodes
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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 work? And why do some businesses guarantee their own failure?
Birthday Parties

Birthday Parties

2020-02-2743:381

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 contradict the bible. But the truth -- about why we celebrate our birthdays and ourselves -- is far more complicated. Get in touch! Twitter: twitter.com/pessimistsarc Web: pessimists.co Email: pessimistsarchive@gmail.com
Faces, Faces, Faces!

Faces, Faces, Faces!

2020-01-2350:382

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 -- and we still say it today. On this episode, we explore where this fear comes from, what it means, and what happens when the fear really does come true. Time to put on your podcast face! Get in touch: Twitter: @pessimistsarc Web: pessimists.co Email: pessimistsarchive@gmail.com
Teddy Bears

Teddy Bears

2019-12-0548:363

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 changed us all… and how we then changed the bear. Get in touch! Twitter: @pessimistsarc Web: www.pessimists.co Email: pessimistsarchive@gmail.com
Mirrors

Mirrors

2019-10-2451:404

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 then the mirror altered the way we think about vanity altogether—forever changing the way we look at ourselves. In this episode, we explore the history of the mirror, the history of vanity, and what it can teach us about today’s obsession over selfies. Get in touch! Twitter: twitter.com/pessimistsarc Web: pessimists.co Email: pessimistsarchive@gmail.com
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 big questions. And the answers just might lead us to rethink how our cities are designed.
Comic Books

Comic Books

2019-07-2548:023

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 charge was a psychologist named Fredric Wertham, whose research fueled people’s fears. In this episode, we take a close look at Wertham to ask: How does someone come to yield so much cultural influence? And how should the rest of us react? Get in touch: Twitter: twitter.com/pessimistsarc Web: pessimists.co Email: pessimistsarchive@gmail.com
Elevator

Elevator

2019-06-2041:543

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 called brain fever, for destroying civil society, and more. On this episode of Pessimists Archive, we look at how the elevator shaped our world, why not everyone loved that, and what it has to teach us about the next big change. Because while the elevator may seem like old technology today, it has a big lesson for us about the future of transportation. Contact us: Twitter: @pessimistsarc Web: pessimists.co Email: pessimistsarchive@gmail.com
Kids These Days

Kids These Days

2019-05-1545:214

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: Why? And we found an answer. Get in touch: Twitter: @pessimistsarc Web: pessimists.co Email: pessimistsarchive@gmail.com
The Waltz

The Waltz

2019-04-2239:161

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 in the early 1800s, the dance was called disgusting, dangerous, an “obscene display … confined to prostitutes and adulteresses”, and worse. Why? In this episode, we explore how the waltz got people so riled up, how everyone finally got over it, and what the whole sweaty tale can teach us about the future of scandalous dances. Reach out! Twitter: @pessimistsarc Email: pessimistsarchive@gmail.com Web: pessimists.co
Telegraph

Telegraph

2019-03-0745:22

“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 the telegraph after it was introduced in the mid-1800s. It was humanity’s first taste of mass communications, and immediately triggered the same concerns about information overload, frivolous communications, loss of privacy, and moral corruption that today we blame on the internet. In this episode, we trace today’s concerns back to their origins. Contact us: Web: pessimists.co Twitter: @pessimistsarc Email: pessimistsarchive@gmail.com
Chain Stores

Chain Stores

2019-02-0839:081

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 attitude towards chain stores in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Today, we have a complex but largely peaceful relationship with these companies. We may blame them for closing down local mom-and-pop shops, but we largely use them without complaint, and sometimes even love them. But when chain stores were new, the reaction against them was fierce. Chain stores were accused of destroying democracy, of limiting freedom, of corrupting young people, and of being evil, evil, evil. (Just wait: The word gets used a lot.) States even tried to ban them. In this episode of Pessimists Archive, we investigate why chain stores were so steeply resisted -- a fight that may just change the way you think about business. Get in touch! Email: pessimistsarchive@gmail.com Twitter: @pessimistsarc Web: pessimists.co
The Novel

The Novel

2018-10-1539:193

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 form of entertainment. They were accused of corrupting the youth, of planting dangerous ideas into the heads of housewives, of and distracting everyone from more serious, important books. In this episode, we explore the roots of anti-novel hysteria, and explore what impact it really did have on us. (And if you're looking for a good novel, check out host Jason Feifer's new novel, Mr. Nice Guy!) Get in touch: Twitter: @pessimistsarc Web: pessimists.co Email: pessimistsarchive@gmail.com Thanks to our sponsor, Element AI, and its podcast The AI Element.
The Subway

The Subway

2018-08-0626:222

“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 project of Lucifer himself. Why were people so opposed to this new form of transportation? To understand it, we have to rewind centuries -- to a time when people thought that Earth was hollow, and that hell was directly under their feet. Contact us! Twitter: @pessimistsarc Email: pessimistsarchive@gmail.com Web: pessimists.co
Margarine

Margarine

2018-06-1841:214

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 full-blown panic, leading to margarine’s demonization (and then taxation and strange discoloration). In this episode, we explore how the dairy industry got politicians all riled up, what it says about industries’ ability to halt innovation, and why it took more than a century for butter and margarine to finally square off in the most fair fight of them all: a true food fight.
Electricity

Electricity

2018-04-0943:262

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 poet. And Thomas Edison, the inventor who gave us the first commercial light bulb, tried his hardest to make people fear a competitor’s form of electricity. But here’s the strangest thing of all: Edison and his ilk failed quickly; their fearmongering just never stuck, and electricity, unlike every other innovation we’ve explored on this show, easily expanded into our world. Why? To understand that, we have go way back -- to the very first spark.
Pinball

Pinball

2018-01-2732:033

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, we go through history to understand how a simple game became demonized. The answer, like pinball itself, requires us to bounce from one object to another, but ultimately falls into one big question: Is pinball a game of skill, or a game of chance? Get in touch! Twitter: @pessimistsarc Web: pessimists.co Email: pessimistsarchive@gmail.com
Coffee

Coffee

2017-11-2030:164

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 most critically of all, it makes you want to take up arms against your government. In this episode, we answer some big questions: Is any of this true? And how did coffee survive centuries of bans, to become today’s best part of waking up? Twitter: @pessimistsarc Online: pessimists.co Email: pessimistsarchive@gmail.com
Vaccinations

Vaccinations

2017-09-1026:563

“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 modern times, but the fear that propels these skeptics is as old as the vaccine itself. How has modern medicine not shaken generations’ worth of suspicion and fear? We go back to look at two pivotal moments -- the birth of the vaccine and a 1905 Supreme Court case -- to understand what still motivates the anti-vaxxers of today. Contact us: Email: pessimistsarchive@gmail.com Twitter: @pessimistsarc Site: http://pessimists.co
Chess

Chess

2017-07-2024:103

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 us: Email: pessimistsarchive@gmail.com Twitter: @pessimistsarc Website: http://pessimists.co
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Comments (9)

Peter Main

My father, born 1925, told me of when he was a lad he'd get shipped off to his uncle's farm for the summer. In those days rural Ontario didn't have electricity (but my father grew up with it, in Toronto). In those days you needed to get 6 houses in an area to agree to be electrified to get the power company to run the lines. So, one evening my great uncle headed out to visit the neighbors, with my father in tow, to persuade them to sign up. My father recalls one old lady they spoke to, sitting in a wooden barn milking her cow, with a coal oil lantern sitting on the straw, saying "oh, I don't know, having that electricity stuff running up and down the walls ... sounds pretty dangerous to me". My father rolled his eyes in amusement.

Feb 12th
Reply

Leta Bishop

Love this podcast! Great history lesson told in an entertaining manner. Hope you keep making more episodes!!

Feb 7th
Reply

Gringo Grip

Thank you for the interesting history and common sense look at human tendency! Great podcast, highly recommend.

Jan 30th
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Vitaliy Cherediy - Slider007 production

Very interesting podcasts. Waiting for more episodes!

Nov 25th
Reply

Tearex63

If the archive belongs to pessimists, shouldn't it be the pessimists' archive?

Jun 20th
Reply (1)

Ryan Wagoner

Great premise for a podcast and very entertaining while enhancing the listeners mind of history and controversial views. How was that Jason? Trying to match those early English pessimist. But I meant it. Keep up the great show.

Mar 7th
Reply

tarun sri harsha

awesome podcast

May 2nd
Reply

Anthony Roach

Great work Jason! this podcast has some interesting stories that are well explained in an entertaining manner. fantastic work!

Feb 4th
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