There have been hell-themed moral panics before, but the latest is the first I’m aware of that asserts the literal growing of horns by our wayward youth. Writing for Vice, Caroline Haskins tells of two Australian researchers, David Shahar and Mark Sayers, who report that these pointy appendages are protruding from the lower skulls of teens and young adults. They suspect this may be due to the horned ones continually titling their head forward and downward while continually using a cell phone.
To be clear, a substantial percentage of late teens and young adults are experiencing this devilish development, though the projections don’t actually poke through the scalp. In 2016, Shahar and Sayers looked at a group of 218 subjects between ages 18 to 30, and determined that 41 percent of them had a small enthesophytes at the base of their skulls. Enthesophytes are abnormal bony projections that normally attach themselves to tendons or ligaments, and usually result from stress applied to a bone.
The question is whether these instances are being caused by cell phone use, which the researchers say is only possibility, but which sensationalized press reports have treat as a virtual certainty. These alarming articles fail to consider other causes or look into whether the enthesophytes incident rate has mushroomed in the cell phone era.
There is nothing in the duo’s studies to suggest the ubiquitous communication devices are leading to bony appendages, or that there is a correlation for two in five young adults having them. Shahar and Sayers merely say that further research on the topic is warranted.
However, a slew of news articles embraced the narrative that the world’s youth are turning into little horned monsters. Such panics have been applied to cell phones before, be it WiFi cancer scares or the assertion that there was a condition called Smartphone Pinky. This referred to an alleged deformity caused by the way people held their phone. In fact, the “deformity” was a curve in the finger bone that has been normal in humans for millenniums.
With regard to the idea of skull enthesophytes being formed by repeatedly looking down and forward, there would be questions as to why this didn’t develop when books became common. There could also be genetic or environmental factors in play, or it could be the result of general posture, not just the position one assumes when responding to text messages about what you’re bringing to the potluck.
All this represents the latest in an uninterrupted string of moral panics surrounding developing technology. Ironically, such developments make it easy to quickly saturate a virtual universe with concocted concerns about sprouting horns – horns that most readers will fittingly find out about via their phones.