Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Heavy Metal

In "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" the Mad Hatter was in all probability mad indeed. Victorian hatters spent their working lives inhaling mercury the use of which was a necessary process in curing beaverskin for men's hats, the consequent heavy metal poisoning leading to paranoia and insanity.  In a strange, paradigmatic twist, the San Francisco Chronicle today reports an unprecedented rise in mercury levels in Pacific seabirds, speculating on the consequent rise of mercury in the food chain and acknowledging that its effects cannot be predicted with any certainty. 
By analogy, the Internet is becoming all-pervasive and ubiquitous - people know where we are and what we're doing as if we all live in a village again, our privacy has been surrendered as well as our cultural identity, eliciting a cold shiver of paranoia. Facebook has 600 million members and the gravitational momentum on the human psyche of such pervasive, rapid and far-reaching technological invasion cannot be calculated with any certainty - we may all be driven mad by the technological equivalent of mercury poisoning.


  1. I agree with the observation that it's like we all live in a village again with one huge codicil - in the village we really did KNOW each other. There was a multi-dimensional experience of relstionship with each other that provided context for the things we experienced others doing or saying. This is almost completely absent in the virtual world and the result is judgment of other peoples' actions which can only come from our own values-laden baggage. A stunningly effective recipe for mind-reading, catastrophizing, the flourishing of paranoia, suspicion, miscommunication and fatal errors. I am coming more and more to the opinion that as relationship facilited by technology surpasses meeting face-to-face at the local coffee shop, social and relational skills are lost and we are much the poorer as human beings. And conflict flourishes...

  2. I'm inclined to agree. But, online is easier to manage sometimes - it's rather like playing tennis where the ball can be slowed down at will so you have time to think how you're going to hit it back. Also, 'conversation' in the sense of group engagement is so very unlike face to face - a whole different set of emotionally imprecise rules of engagement. Virtual reality is like a virtual image in a lens. It's just not real.


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