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  • Bored, Lonely, Angry, Stupid: Changing Feelings About Technology, From the Telegraph to Twitter by Luke Fernandez and Susan J. Matt
  • Martina Hessler (bio)
Bored, Lonely, Angry, Stupid: Changing Feelings About Technology, From the Telegraph to Twitter
By Luke Fernandez and Susan J. Matt. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2019. Pp. 464.

The history of emotions is not an established field of research within the history of technology. Even though groundbreaking works have analyzed emotions toward technology, such as David Nye's American Technological Sublime (MIT Press, 1996) or Spencer Weart's Nuclear Fear (Harvard University Press, 2009), this is a rare focus. However, Luke Fernandez and Susan Matt's book demonstrates what a promising field of research this can be.

Their starting point is observing a new American emotional style in the digital age. The authors refer to common contemporary statements about digital media, such as Facebook adding to loneliness or social media encouraging [End Page 1222] narcissism. They juxtapose such statements with a historical study that traces the changes in emotions since the eighteenth century. In doing so, they also demonstrate the importance of a historical contextualization of the digital present.

In six chapters, they offer a thorough analysis of the history of six feelings: narcissism, loneliness, boredom, attention, awe, and anger. The book uses a wide array of sources: nineteenth and twentieth century diaries, letters, memoirs, and advertisements; psychological and sociological studies from the same period; and fifty-five interviews conducted between 2014 and 2018 to capture contemporary self-descriptions of the American emotional world. These interviews represent a small sample with predictable findings, but bring the study to the present day.

In the introduction, the authors briefly outline the state of research in the history of emotions. Further, they refer to the basic consensus of the history of emotions: first, emotions have a history and are changeable; secondly, they are not purely biological, but also culturally shaped. The authors do not mention debates about different approaches, define terms, or provide conceptual considerations on the relationship between technology and emotions, which would have been useful for historians of technology. The aim of the book, however, is to understand a new American emotional style. Briefly and somewhat simplified, the authors summarize their core thesis: "Americans' emotional lives have changed as their society, culture, and technologies have changed. Today many are less humble about themselves and their powers and also less awed by the world around them. They expect constant stimulation, connection, affirmation, and activity, and they are disappointed when these expectations go unmet. This new conception of self breeds a sense of power and also a sense of disappointment" (p. 15). Throughout the book, Fernandez and Matt give voice to different social groups, revealing a variety of norms and experiences of emotions, while effectively describing changes in the broader patterns described in their summary.

Interestingly, Fernandez and Matt describe the early twentieth century as a time of change for each emotion, with the interplay of all six emotions as central to the thesis of a new American emotional style. Only one chapter can be examined here. In the chapter on loneliness, the authors trace changing norms and experiences in a multifaceted way. People suffered from loneliness in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as well, illustrated by impressive quotes from slaves and workers. However, loneliness was regarded as a part of the human condition; it had to be endured. Loneliness was also considered a divine test, idealized by an individualistic ideology. In the twentieth century, the evaluation of loneliness began to change. It was no longer seen as something to passively endure, but something to actively fight. Around 1900, Lonely Clubs or Less Lonely Leagues emerged in cities. Letters had already been used to maintain social relationships [End Page 1223] from a distance and alleviate feelings of loneliness. Companies advertised radio and telephone as means of combating loneliness. According to the industry's message, loneliness could be fought with technology. In the course of the twentieth century, the negative view of loneliness increased. The term "loner" emerged, and the ability to endure loneliness decreased. Digital media and the Internet were able to tie in seamlessly, and alleviated loneliness...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1097-3729
Print ISSN
0040-165X
Pages
pp. 1222-1224
Launched on MUSE
2021-01-07
Open Access
No
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