Jerry Springer's Attitude To Technology Was Unexpectedly Prophetic

Controversial TV host, politician, and former reporter Jerry Springer has died at the age of 79. Springer's family broke the news on Thursday, saying the television personality had passed away "peacefully" at his home in Chicago. Although he was best known for his long-running talk show that sensationally tackled subjects like divorce, infidelity, and little people brawling, the 79-year-old also had some surprisingly insightful views on technology and censorship.

During a speech at the 2014 MIPDoc festival in Cannes, France, Springer reeled off some oddly prophetic views. After describing humans as "storytellers" Springer highlighted how humans would traditionally gather at forums and marketplaces to discuss current events, The Guardian reported at the time. He then went on to describe how advancements in technology have essentially made it possible to take discussions worldwide, saying "People are always talking about what is going on in their neighborhood. The only thing that has changed is that with modern technology, our neighborhood has now become global."

Springer also had positive views about social media, describing the rise of the platform as "inevitable" and seeing the benefits it could bring. "What we are observing, witnessing is the democratization of culture," the former talk show host said. He also believed humans from a range of backgrounds could find common ground, claiming if you took people from a range of countries who were of a similar age, they would find things to talk about.

Springer struck out at censorship

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the host of one of the most shocking and controversial shows in recent years was not keen on censorship. After jokingly apologizing for unleashing "The Jerry Springer Show" upon the world, Springer made a fairly blunt point about it — and TV in general's — actual impact on society. "This concept that television has influenced human behavior and the destruction of society is garbage," Springer argued. "We had a holocaust before anyone had a television set."

While contentious at the time, fast forward to 2023 and it's even easier to draw parallels between Springer's words and the debate currently surrounding social media. Short-format video sites like TikTok are being blamed for destroying people's attention spans, amongst other things, while Elon Musk's attitude toward "free speech" has been criticized for its potential to platform political extremists and online trolls. 

A study published in late 2022 by the Pew Research Center suggested views on social media differed considerably, particularly in the U.S. where sites like Twitter and Facebook were instrumental in divisive political campaigns such as ahead of the 2016 presidential election, when Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton fans sparred aggressively, and manipulation was rife. Only 34% of U.S. adults said they believed social media had been good for democracy in the research, with 64% saying it had been a negative force. 

Though his comments predated all that, Springer was nonetheless prescient about social media and technology leveling the playing field. "Whether you're going on your cellphone or tweeting or whatever," Springer said, "that is the democratization of society, aided by technology." Ironically, the talkshow host himself preferred to watch TV on topics other than cheating spouses and screaming siblings, revealing in 2014 that he was more likely to tun into sports and political news.