Suffering Divinatiophobia in the Age of Social Media

By Shayla Johnston, Nov. 29, 2012

I have been asked my opinion about the future of social media. I hesitate to provide one.

Remember Zoltar? Predictions about technology are infamously wrong.

Predicting technology has been a foolish endeavor since the dawn of print. I contributed to this foolishness in 1996. While pursuing my undergraduate degree, I wrote a paper about internet regulation and censorship. I predicted that government regulation would be the most effective way to prevent minors from becoming victims of pedophiles on the “’Net”, because parents wouldn’t be savvy enough to utilize censorship software effectively. Obviously, I was wrong.  In 2012, we know parental controls are much more effective at this job than the government.

I have no desire to see more of my erroneous predictions haunt me in future years.  After all, many who have recorded their prophecies about technology in the past are now considered historical jesters or tragically naive.

Technology’s Unfortunate Prognosticators of the Past

Written Word

Socrates, as quoted by Plato in Phaedrus: “Then anyone who leaves behind him a written manual, and likewise anyone who takes it over from him, on the supposition that such writing will provide something reliable and permanent, must be exceedingly simple-minded.”

Bibliofobia, and predictions connecting literacy to death, made for unnecessary bonfires.


Benjamin Disraeli, Prime Minister of Great Britain and author (b. 1804, d. 1881): “Books are fatal: they are the curse of the human race. Nine-tenths of existing books are nonsense, and the clever books are the refutation of that nonsense. The greatest misfortune that ever befell man was the invention of printing.” [i]


Sen. George McDuffie, South Carolina Senator, 1842-1847:  “…What was this telegraph to do? Would it transmit letters and newspapers? Under what power in the constitution did Senators propose to erect this telegraph? He was not aware of any authority except under the clause for the establishment of post roads. And besides the telegraph might be made very mischievous and secret information after communicated to the prejudice of merchants.” [ii]


Dr. Dionysus Larder (b. 1793- d.1859), professor at University College London: “Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.” [iii]


Electrophobia left Professor Erasmus Wilson in the dark.

Erasmus Wilson, Professor at Oxford University, 1878: “When the Paris Exhibition closes, electric light will close with it and no more will be heard of it.”[iv] 


H.G. Wells, science fiction author, 1925:  “I have anticipated radio’s complete disappearance…confident that the unfortunate people, who must now subdue themselves to listening in, will soon find a better pastime for their leisure.”[v]


Lord Kelvin, mathematician and scientist, 1895:  “Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.”[vi]

Motorphobia made Henry Ford’s attorney advise against investment in automobiles.


Henry Ford’s lawyer, Horace Rackham, 1903: “The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad.”[vii] 


A U.S. District Attorney during the prosecution of inventor Lee DeForest for the fraudulent selling of stock for his Radio Telephone Company in 1913: “De Forest has said in many newspapers and over his signature that it would be possible to transmit human voice across the Atlantic before many years. Based on these absurd and deliberately misleading statements, the misguided public…has been persuaded to purchase stock in his company…”

(Note: The prosecution was not successful, but the judge warned De Forest “to get a common garden-variety of job and stick to it.”)[viii]

Space Travel

New York Times, 1936:  “A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.”[ix]


New York Times review at the 1939 World’s Fair:  “The problem with television is that people must sit and keep their eyes glued on a screen; the average American family hasn’t time for it.”[x]

Zuigerphobia: Completely justified when cleaning would lead to toxic waste.

Vacuum cleaners

Alex Lewyt, President of Lewyt Corp. vacuum company, 1955: “Nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality in 10 years.”[xi]


FCC commissioner T.A.M. Craven, 1961: “There is practically no chance communications space satellites will be used to provide better telephone, telegraph, television or radio service inside the United States.”[xii]

Expanded Cable

Viacom President Sumner Redstone, Oct. 21, 1994: “I am very skeptical of this talk of 500 channels. I just don’t know what’s going to play on them.”[xiii]


Inventor of Ethernet, Robert Metcalfe, 1995: “I predict the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.”[xiv]

Predictions for the Future of Social Media in 2012

Placetophobia: Some people do not “like” social media.

The Amazing Kreskin, 2012: “With fits and starts, the Facebook stock will rise over the next three years, and climb above the initial offering price. The Facebook product will continue as an impactful and important part of human connection through this decade. The timeline concept on each page will remain but will undergo a bold redesign in the next six months. Expect a merger with another major internet entity over the next 18 months. And of some note, a Zuckerberg family member joins the Facebook staff. Also, the letter “B” and the numbers “12” and “14” have some significance.” [xv]

Psychic Judy Hevenly, 2012: “Facebook will merge into other entities, and social networking on line will be a thing of the past. Mark Zuckerberg will cash out in the very near future within a year, resign from Facebook, have a baby, and do more charitable work like Bill Gates. Facebook is going to be part of world time line photography exhibit. Getty could possibly buy this photography exhibit”. [xvi]

The psychics are more comfortable than I in making specific prophecies. After voluntarily studying the modern transformation of media in the last year, I feel qualified only to say that social media is unlikely to become obsolete. Probably, it will evolve into forms I am not creative enough to imagine.

Clay Shirky argues that the United States government can support global democracy by adopting an “environmental view” towards social media which would promote “freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly everywhere”. [xviii]

There are indications that the Coliseum for future battles between democracy and tyranny will be social media. Joel Brinkley of the Chicago Tribune recently blogged: “Most of the world’s dictators share a common fear, and it’s not of the United States, NATO, the United Nations or any outside entity. No, the force that most threatens them is social media”. [xvii]  Clay Shirky argues that social media and texting can help avoid censorship and challenge repressive regimes thereby creating positive political change. [xviii]

I hope social media  it will continue to promote empowerment of the meek voices. But I also fear that it will be used to  manipulate the stressed and harried who will not have the time to fact-check easily published opinions. I keep my fingers crossed that  Brinkley and Shirky will emerge from history as prophets not posers.

Related articles

[ii] Elon University School of Communications. Imagining the Internet: A History and Forecast. Retrieved from (Nov. 25, 2012).

[iv] Retrieved from (Nov. 26, 2012).

[v] Elon. Retrieved from (Nov. 29, 2012).

[vi] NASA (Dec. 17, 2003). Agency News. Retrieved from (Nov. 28, 2012).

[vii] Simaneck, Donald (Sept. 19, 1997). It’ll Never Work. Retrieved from (Nov. 28, 2012).

[viii] Elon, supra. Retrieved from (Nov. 27, 2012).

[ix] Gruener, Wolfgang (Dec. 27, 2011). 25 historic technology predictions. Conceivably Tech. Retieved from (Nov. 29, 2012).

[x] Elon. Retrieved from (Nov. 27, 2012).

[xi] (Jan. 13, 2008). Virtually yours. Retrieved from (Nov. 25, 2012).

[xii] Fater, Jamie (Oct. 28, 2007). Top 30 Failed Technology Predictions. Retrieved from (Nov. 25, 2012).

[xiii] Elon. Retrieved from (Nov. 27, 2012).

[xiv] Goble, Gordon (Nov. 4, 2012). Top 10 bad tech predictions. Retrieved from (Nov. 29, 2012).

[xv]Upbin, Bruce (Sept. 27, 2012). Facebook’s future is bleak say noted psychics. Retrieved from (Nov. 26, 2012).

[xvi] Upbin.
[xvii] Brinkley, Joel (Nov. 27, 2012). What tyrants fear most: social media. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from–tms–amvoicesctnav-c20121127-20121127_1_social-media-bloggers-president-alexander-lukashenko (Nov. 29, 2012).
[xviii] Shirky, Clay (2011). The political power of social media: technology, the public spherre, and political change. Retrieved from (Nov. 20, 2012).

2 thoughts on “Suffering Divinatiophobia in the Age of Social Media

  1. Shayla, So what is: Divinatiophobia? I don’t think it’s explained. Lou

    From: johnstonlawblog <> Reply-To: johnstonlawblog <> Date: Thursday, November 29, 2012 2:59 PM To: Lou Heldman <> Subject: [New post] Suffering Divinatiophobia in the Age of Social Media

    johnstonlawblog posted: “By Shayla Johnston, Nov. 29, 2012 I have been asked to write about the future of social media. I hesitate to do so. Remember Zoltar? Predictions about technology are infamously wrong.[/capti”

    • Thank you for bringing attention to the absence of definition in this post. “Divinatiophobia” is the fear of divining, or predictions. I imagine that a glossary would be helpful in this situation, given that I made up a few of the phobias mentioned in the post.

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