Issue 141, Volume 14 -- March 2010
It was pointed out to me recently that there is a little bit of a
paradox involved with the current communications revolution we're
undergoing. The paradox doesn't affect everyone equally. Indeed, some
of us are barely touched by it. Others seem to be hit pretty hard by
it. What is it? We've got cell phones and e-mail and voice mail and
instant messaging programs and chat rooms, etc. Dozens of new things to
make communications easier, and yet- And yet we seem o be more isolated
from each other than ever before.
I have friends online all over the world. Most of them I'll never meet
in person. Through this wonderful web of technology we have (and it is
wonderful, make no mistake about that) I can speak or text or interact
with them in a chat room in real time. I can write them a letter, click
on my computer screen, and know that they will be reading my message
within moments. I can send them a photograph, or a video of my new
grandson when he starts to take his first steps, or a recording of a
friend playing their guitar; click send, contact! I can even be in a
live chat with text, audio, and video of several people at the same
time, and yet there is something missing. There is a kind of distance
between some of us that has nothing to do with our relative
geographical locations. It is as if the act of closing that physical
distance by way of our electronic media has brought about an increase
in the emotional distance between individuals.
As I said, it doesn't strike everyone equally. Some of us can still
step away from the computer and out into the real world to interact
with other people with no difficulty at all. Others of us have a
problem dealing with people in the flesh. I, myself, have a fear of
crowds. But I fight that by going to conventions, going out shopping in
brick & mortar stores, traveling - for hours at a time, one
way, sometimes - just to meet up with friends and talk. I don't know
how I came by this phobia. I just grew into it, over the years. I know
it wasn't caused by the Internet because I was suffering from it long
before the Internet came to be. It isn't a fear of being outdoors,
being away from my house, or of being in a new, strange place. I love
the great outdoors. I enjoy getting out of the house and doing things.
I'm not the least bit uncomfortable waking up in a hotel bed a thousand
miles away from my home. Or waking up in a sleeping bag in a campground
far from home, either. No, my phobia is of large groups of people,
strangers to me in every way, gathered together wherever and why ever
they congregate. Going to the Atlanta airport is a chore. Going
shopping during the Holiday Season is worse. But I did get an insight
into my problem at a convention several years back. For most of the
weekend at the convention, I was fine. I was overjoyed to be there and
having wonderful conversations with people I'd never met before. Some
of whom became fast friends. But, and you knew there was going to be an
exception of some sort, on the last day of the convention some of the
local people came to the hotel for their own regular Sunday morning
breakfast socializing. The convention attendees hadn't given my phobia
a single twitch. But these strangers pushed it into overdrive. I tried
to fight it, but after several hours the anxiety was simply too much. I
said farewell to my new friends, threw my bags in the car, checked out
of the hotel, and fled for home. It turned out that I fled into a short
but nasty thunderstorm. Less than ten minutes drive from the hotel, I
was trapped on a highway in a traffic jam I later learned was some
seven miles long. I saw several car wrecks that had been caused by the
storm as my car crept further amid the bumper-to-bumper traffic. It
took several hours for emergency crews to clear those wrecks and
restore traffic to normal. For most of that time, the traffic was
halted completely. People got out of their vehicles and began
conversations with others around them. I joined them, in several
instances. No fear, no anxiety, just ordinary, everyday people that I
didn't know and would never see again, united by circumstances beyond
our control. It was quite an enlightening experience for me. In fact,
that was the event that began my becoming able to combat my silly
little phobia. I haven't ever gotten rid of it, but I eventually
learned to almost totally ignore it. I am now able to go to a large
public event and have a good time, without giving in to the urge to run
away from the crowds. That urge to flee is still there, in the back of
my mind, but I don't have to give into it. That gives me a small amount
of insight into the isolation that some people online happen to show.
But of course, not everyone is driven by a fear of personal interaction
with others. I may be an average guy, but I wouldn't say that I'm
typical of everyone. People are very much the same, and yet they are
all very different.
But yet that distancing is sometimes there. Some people I have seen
would rather text each other across a small room than to take a few
steps and get face-to-face with each other. Some people seem gregarious
and outgoing in a chatroom, but can't seem to bring themselves to
interact with others offline. Is it because electronic communication
allows us to adopt personae differing from our own, safe and secure in
the knowledge that no one can actually touch them in any way? Perhaps,
but I don't know for sure. Is there a psychological safety belt
involved in being behind a computer screen on the information
superhighway? I suppose that is possible, but again, I don't know. What
I do know is that people are people, driven by complex emotions and
drives and needs, but all pretty similar to one another when everything
gets factored into the personal equation. Pretty much, people have
always hidden behind masks, roles, characters of the personae we adopt
and adapt. I believe that distance between us all has always been
there. The Internet didn't cause it, but the Internet makes it easier
to observe that distance being put into play in our personal
interactions. There are just more people online. The larger sample size
makes the gathering of data more accurate, so to speak. I imagine that
back in the reaches of history there were people who were far more
comfortable sending smoke signals to one another than they were when in
a face-to-face meeting. At the core, we humans seem to be a little bit
afraid of each other. If technology has proved anything, it shows that
we haven't really changed much throughout our history. The better our
means of communication, the more obvious the psychological distance we
keep between each other becomes.
Drum-beats, smoke signals, telegraph messages, radio, telephones, text
messaging, chat rooms... The more things change, the more they stay the
Of course, I'm a writer. So I could just be making it all up. What do
you think? While you're thinking it over, I suppose I should quit
yapping and let you get to reading the new issue of Aphelion. After
all, that's why you came here. Enjoy the stories and poetry and
articles. Click on over to our Forums when you're done and feel free to
post your critiques and opinions. And thanks for your time,
Serials & Long Fiction
By J. E. Cammon
A story of the origins of super heroism in a midwestern city in the years just after the Second World War.
Cadence: Of Lizards and Hounds
By Christa Lasher
Cadre was a boy who thought nothing of trespassing on a neighbor's land in search of the lizards and other creatures that fascinated him. But he found a lot more than lizards in Aaron Annwn's back yard!
By Ian Cordingley
The uncontrolled spread of badly-programmed nanites had made travel between the Moon and Earth into an ordeal. To qualify for the trip, Ashley would have to undergo painful and humiliating medical testing -- and even she didn't know if she would pass.
Is There Something in the Attic?
By Belinda Rees
The storm brought a blackout, and something else: something that moved around in the attic, frightening the woman and her two small children. She had to see what it was, and deal with it -- that was part of the job of being a mother.
Basilisks and Brian (and a Very Bad First Day)
By Stuart Sharp
Brian Northington had stumbled into a world he had never suspected right in the heart of modern London, a world where magical -- and sometimes dangerous -- creatures really existed. As new jobs went, dealing with them on behalf of P. Edgeborough and Co. was -- interesting.
The Last Concerto
By James A. Andrew
Radcliffe Willowsby wanted to be a great composer. His work met with indifference at best -- until he found a new source of inspiration.
Fast Food Zombies
By Eric Krause
Working at Buster's Cheeseburger Hut was pretty much literally a McJob. Of course, dealing with marauding packs of zombies in search of sustenance (human flesh preferred, but burgers and fries easier to catch) made it a lot more exciting.
By Dave Weaver
After the banks triggered the Great Depression, everything changed. Where children once sang about the Black Plague (husha, husha, we all fall down), now they sang about the Moneymen...
By Jeremy Kuban
Every author (successful or not) gets asked "Where do you get your ideas?" Here is an answer you probably haven't heard before.
The Problem With Gibson
By Dave Weaver
Gibson was a mind-reader. Using him to make sure that the Governor didn't go off script as he began his campaign for the Presidency seemed like a no-brainer.
Results of Forum Flash Challenges for February 2010
The February 2010 Flash Challenge was to take the example story and write it up as seen through the eyes of one of the bar patrons who were thee to witness it. Because the events described take place in Dan Hollifield's (in)famous Mare Inebrium (a decidedly unwretched hive in which scum and villainy rub shoulders (or shoulder-analogs) with heroes and ordinary joes from across all of time and space), Dan has added the stories to the official Mare Inebrium archives. Congratulations to Lester Curtis, the challenge winner for February for his story "Cold Call"!
Flash Crowd #1 - Points of View
By Dan L. Hollifield, Bill Wolfe, Lester Curtis, J. Davidson Hero, & Jaimie Elliot
Any cop can tell you that if you interview a dozen witnesses to a single crime, you'll wind up with a dozen different versions of what happened.
Poetry and Filk Music
by Mike Berger
Columns, Arches, Blocks and Walls
by Robert William Shmigelsky
Howling on the Moor
by Richard H. Fay
by J. Davidson Hero
Just An Observation
by Richard Tornello
by Lester Curtis
by Bruce Whealton
The Patron Saint of Dinosaurs
by Jean Jones
Thoughts on Writing #18: Thesaurus vs. Velociraptor Realistic About the Market
By Seanan McGuire
In an ongoing series, Seanan McGuire takes apart the engine of
writing to find out how it works, and offers her insights into how to put it
back together again.
Off the Shelf: A Local Habitation
By Rob Wynne
October "Toby" Daye returns in Seanan McGuire's second novel, A Local Habitation, out in paperback this week from DAW. Rob Wynne takes a look.
Aphelion Webzine is © 1997-2013 by Dan L. Hollifield