THE ISLAND SYNDROME
Part 1: Understanding the Island Syndrome
(August 12, 2010)
How often have you seen a teenager standing quietly, peering down at his or her cell phone, checking for messages? Have you noticed how many times a day they do this? Do you have any idea how much time a typical teenager spends checking Facebook or MySpace? Most older people do not realize the terrible fear teenagers have as to what would happen should they be disconnected, even temporarily, from the Internet. Even worse, the thought of being without a cell phone for more than a short time is so profound and so scary as to be, literally, unbelievable. If there is one trait that characterizes too many young people, it is the inability to tolerate being alone.
In another direction, a great many people spend vast amounts of time with their game consoles and PCs, immersing themselves in imaginary activities. For example, the "massively multiplayer online role-playing games" (MMORPGs), such as World of Warcraft, offer elaborate universes, inhabited around the clock by hundreds, thousands, and even tens of thousands of people. Unless you happen to be a MMORPG player, it is difficult to appreciate that these games are the primary leisure-time activity for a vast number of people.
For people who are not gamers, there are other imaginary environments that provide a more familiar alternative to real life. For example, the very popular Second Life, an "online virtual world", enables "residents" to inhabit an extremely sophisticated environment. Within this environment, residents socialize, own land, build homes, participate in group activities, sell and trade all kinds of property, provide services to one another, attend live concerts and lectures, form friendships and relationships, and even have virtual sex. Imagine what happens to people (and they are many of them) who spend most of their free time in this way. Why do they willingly trade their chance to "be here now" — in the real world — for a simulated environment in which there is no chance of satisfying their most important needs and desires?
Over the past generation, we have come to live with a malignant spirit whose tentacles reach into far too many aspects of our lives.
Over the past generation, we have — unexpectedly — come to live with a malignant spirit whose tentacles reach into far too many aspects of our lives. Look closely with the right type of eyes, and you will see a mysterious incubus at work: a subtle but powerful monster that has invaded our culture and our person. Whatever this malady is, it goes well beyond communication, influencing much more than how we use our computers and our telephones, and how we spend our spare time. Consider the following observations. At first, they may seem unrelated, but as you will see, there is important commonality:
• Our libraries and bookstores are filled with books, and the Internet offers a huge amount of information to anyone with a computer. So why are so many of us woefully ignorant and intellectually under-stimulated? And why do so many people choose to spend so much of their time talking on cell phones, watching TV, playing video games, and text messaging? Why are virtual environments so attractive to so many people? Is it really as much of a choice as we would like to believe?
• Businesses use sophisticated, computerized systems that enable them to be efficient and productive in ways that would otherwise be impossible. Indeed, much of what we have depends on such systems. And yet, in spite of the fact that every such system was designed and built by human beings, so many of them seem to be beyond our control. Why do we create and endure complex systems — of our own making — that, at times, are so impersonal, dehumanizing and frustrating?
• We have the best health-care system in the history of the world, and yet, many people are under- or over-treated (or both). Moreover, in spite of all that modern medicine can do, why do so many of us suffer from back and neck pain, anxiety, depression, fatigue, headaches, and insomnia? Why do so many of us stimulate ourselves daily with coffee, alcohol and sugar? And why do so many of us depend on psychoactive medication such as anti-depressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and pharmacological stimulants to enhance social behavior and motivation?
• Our supermarkets and restaurants offer a vast variety of food, and most of us have the resources to eat whatever we want and whenever we want. Why, then, do so many of us eat too much or too little? And why do we — repeatedly — make such poor choices? Are our food choices and our food supply as much under our control as we would like to believe?
• Perhaps most troubling: With so many unsatisfied, lonely, single people looking for a mate, why are there so many unsatisfied, lonely, single people looking for a mate? What has happened to our ability to create and sustain long-term, intimate relationships? Why does the idea of friendship seem to mean so much less to us than it did to our grandparents?
The truth is, we thrive only when we live in harmony with our biology, and there is something about our culture that clashes deeply with who we are and what we might be. It is this dissonance that creates the sense — around us and within us — that so much of our world is dehumanizing.
© All contents Copyright 2023, Harley Hahn