People often fear the fast changing technological landscape. That distrust is not something new. Peter Paul Verbeek, Professor of Philosophy of Human and Technology at the University of Twente, describes how in the past people got afraid every time technology took a jump. Verbeek sees technology as a part of us, in every historical timeline. “Technology shapes how we are human, and how we see the world. It has always done that, from the fist ax to the iPhone.”

This jump of technology often bring waves of fear and hallucinations. Near the end of the 19th century typewriters brought a separation from the body. Before we had total control of our penmanship, the typewriter and telegraph replaced this control. This, together with the development of x-rays, frightened people. I talked to Simon Pummell, director of Shock Head Soul, about his research which included how new technology affects people.

Shock Head Soul is a documentation of the autobiography of the 19th century German judge, Daniel Schreber. In 1983 he started getting messages from god via a Writing Down Machine that connected everything with everything. The following 9 years Schreber was confined to an asylum. During his confinement he wrote Memoirs of my Nervous Illness which earned him lasting fame as an outsider artist. With his memoirs he plead and won his case in court, arguing that his belief system was a matter of religious freedom and that he was sane enough to return to society.

“One of the things that came out of the research, and what is endorsed by the scientists in the film, is that people who are seriously psychotic seem to derive many of their fears from the sense that they are controlled by technology, those are always technologies that are rooted in our society in some way or other. When you look at the timeline of Schreber’s life, you see that he lived in a time when the X-rays were discovered, the telegraph, the typewriter, and that much of his fantasies had somehow to do with it, which made it easier for us to shape his ‘writing down machine’. – Simon pummel

Accordion Content

Verbeek, Peter Paul. Wij hebben geen klauwen dus hebben we ‘n Iphone. NRC.
6 Oct. 2017.

Schreber, Daniel Paul. Memoirs of my nervous illness. New York Review of Books, 1955.

Linssen, Dana. De uitvinding van het moderne individu. Filmkrant. 2012.