The history of Bicycle Face and the terror of new technology

Imagine that you've never ridden a bicycle, because it's just recently been invented. 

Also imagine you are one of the first brave souls to attempt riding one of these new mechanical wonders, except you're told you're at high risk for a new disease linked to this new technology.... called... bicycle face.

Sounds pretty ominous, right? 

This was a real thing. Or rather, it was a made-up thing publicized as a real thing. In the 1890s, when bicycles were all the rage, men were riding bicycles all over the place. Women wanted in on all this bicycle action. Then men got scared once they realized bicycles gave women a newfound freedom of transportation.



A legit medical doctor thus invented a "medical condition" meant to scare people - specifically, female people - from riding bicycles. Someone needed to do something to discourage women from taking part in this new bicycle-riding harlotry, and thus the legend of bicycle face began.  (It is still unclear why these symptoms are only applicable only to female and not male cyclists... but I digress.)

Detailed symptoms:

  • "... hard, clenched jaw and bulging eyes."
  • "... usually flushed, but sometimes pale, often with lips more or less drawn, and the beginning of dark shadows under the eyes, and always with an expression of weariness..."

(I couldn't make this s**t up, folks. Source here.)

Who wants to marry a woman that looks like that!? Better not ride them bicycles, ladies.

Since women aren't actually complete idiots, we realized that men were riding bicycles all over the place with absolutely no symptoms of this terrifying "bicycle face" disease, and so continued on their merry way, riding bicycles to and fro. 

By now you're wondering "how is this applicable to emerging technology?"

Daily, I hear talk of the horrors of self-driving cars killing everyone in sight, of cloning ending the human race as we know it, of AI becoming so sophisticated that Westworld is going to become a reality (OK, I still kind of believe the last one).

It's easy to buy into these fears, because new technology is an unknown, and the unknown can be scary. 

Thinking about "bicycle face" helps easy my fears; the fact that at one point in history, when a scary new technology called "the bicycle" was invented, (some) people were genuinely concerned about this made up fear, that actual experts said it to be true.

... and despite all of this cynicism and dyspepsia,  everyone now rides bicycles all the time, and no one actually has bicycle face, and no one has ever had bicycle face, and we're all just fine. Bicycles are everywhere, and we are all just fine. 

And we'll also be OK when self-driving cars are the norm, when genetically-engineered babies roam the earth, and when (Westworld-type) robots work beside us, and when those robots also ride bicycles.

And we can rest assured that these bicycle-riding robots will not have bicycle face. 

We will all continue to be just fine.