War of the Worlds

In 1938 Orson Wells’ infamous “War of the Worlds” was heard on the radio. Scripted as a series of short news briefs describing an alien invasion, it caused massive panic and revealed the power of mass media. Despite four announcements that it was fictional, thousands of calls flooded police departments and even more were treated for shock and hysteria. This was largely due to the realistic nature of the broadcast, which had reporters interrupting music to give updates on a Martian attack against a New Jersey town.

Wells was reportedly stunned by the events, and said perhaps he misunderstood the nature of the medium, in that it was usually listened to in fragments. This draws large parallels to other types of media, including the world wide web, giving this piece of fiction a profound place in computing history. Nearly a decade later in 1949 the broadcast caused a similar panic in Quito, Ecuador. The radio station was burned to the ground by an angry mob.

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