Many visitors were skeptical. Instead of going inside, they stopped at the entrance and took a timid look into the shaft lit up with torches. Even the band playing inside could not entice them further. Only a few dared to walk the nearly 400 meters along the tunnel to emerge on the other side of the Thames.
Thus, on March 25th, 1843, the London Times reported on the opening of the first tunnel, which was to bring relief to London’s bridges over the Thames, which were hopelessly clogged with traffic. By the mid-19th century, technical progress had reached the point where tunneling was mastered, but there was still some fear of the underground in people’s minds. It was not so much the collapse of the tunnel that was feared, but the superstition that something threatening lurked beneath the earth. After all, there was hell there, which the devil inhabited as his domicile, wasn’t it? It didn’t help that the tunnel smelled damp and musty, water dripped from the ceiling, and the lighting seemed a bit dim.
It was not so much the fear of the unknown as the fear of the supposedly known that made the Londoners of 1843 hesitate before exploring the first tunnel. However, this tunnel was followed by others, and today we hardly give it a second thought when we descend into a subway and pass under cities, countries and even oceans in tunnels.
No wonder, then, that this skepticism was to be expected among the population in other cities as well. In Boston, people were familiar with the first London Underground, opened in 1863, which was not a pleasant experience at the time. Coal-fired, steam-driven, with loud squealing noises in damp and dark tunnels, a ride had been a health-threatening affair. One reporter likened his ride to ‘pulling teeth at the dentist,’ and his coughing fit after taking the subway to the experience of ‘a boy after his first cigar.’ This impression shaped other subway projects, and it would be several decades of years before the first subway opened in another city.
On March 28, 1895, as a dozen thickly-clad workers equipped with wheelbarrows and shovels waited for the Boston mayor to show up for the groundbreaking of the first American subway tunnel, they received word that he was too busy and sent his representative instead. Not only was the mayor of this important American city opposed to the project, so was a state representative named Jeremiah J. McCarthy. The latter told the Boston Globe that a tunnel was a humbug and would only waste useless amounts of money, would be damp, dark and, above all, unhealthy. He also believed that people would not use a subway if there were surface transportation alternatives, and the tunnel made sense when there was no other way to cross the river.
Wie können wir die Zukunft vorhersagen und uns besser auf sie vorbereiten? Das ist eine Frage, die sich viele Unternehmen stellen, die auch für die persönliche Zukunft Konsequenzen hat.
Dieser Online-Kurs lehrt eine Reihe von Werkzeugen, mit denen Kursteilnehmer Anzeichen für das, was kommen könnte, selbst entdecken können, wie man sie beeinflussen kann um heute bessere Entscheidungen treffen zu können. Mit diesem Wissen und den Werkzeugen sind Studenten in der Lage, Ihre eigene persönliche Zukunft oder die Ihres Unternehmens und Ihrer Organisation zu gestalten.
So Boston engineers enlisted MIT to measure and improve air quality and other ‘nasties’ underground. So when, six months after excavation began, they also came across bones in unmarked graves belonging to several hundred soldiers from the American War of Independence, officials knew they had to step up their public relations efforts.
After the tunnel was completed, the Governor of Massachusetts and other dignitaries were led down the steps into the darkness. Nothing could be seen and only the footsteps of the dignitaries could be heard as they slowly made their way down. When they were at the bottom, someone flipped the light switch and light came on. A dry, odorless and well-ventilated, bright tunnel became visible before the eyes, not the damp, wet, cold darkness that everyone had imagined.
These people’s fears of tunnels and subways had provided a blueprint for those responsible for the project on how to deal with these fears and superstitions: by delivering exactly the opposite of expectations. Not the old reality was fulfilled, but an alternative, modern reality was created.
The Future Fear that seems to come with almost every new technology can also serve as a template for us on how to defeat it. Of self-driving cars, artificial intelligence and robots that will kill us and take control of us humans. Of the hyperloop that may burst eardrums and virtually provoke accidents. Of digital tools that will turn us into addicts and dumb us down. Of genetically engineered plants and food that will kill us with new diseases. Of implanted chips that will manipulate us. And wind turbines that will not only kill birds, but make us sick with unproven infrasound.
And these are recurring motifs. Thus, on November 23, 1889, the trade magazine ‘The Electrical World‘ summarized newspaper reports of dead birds that had collided with the Statue of Liberty. Readers had found particularly gruesome the reports of roasted birds killed by getting caught in the statue’s electric lights. And that reminds us of the reports of bird massacres at today’s wind turbines.
How did Bostonians receive their first subway? On the first day of operation of the new electric Boston subway, September 1, 1897, 100,000 people rode it. And just a few days after it opened, a newspaper article reported on the traffic jams outside the turnstiles to the subway. The title of the article? “Novelty Over!”
Note: Fears and anxieties can be overcome by providing people with the exact opposite of their expectations.