Crowded and Unsanitary

Glenn Reynolds writes,

It wasn’t until you crowded thousands, or tens of thousands of them, along with their animals, into small dense areas with poor sanitation that disease outbreaks took off. Instead of meeting dozens of new people per year, an urban dweller probably encountered hundreds per day. Diseases that would have affected only a few people at a time as they spread slowly across a continent (or just burned out for lack of new carriers) would now leap from person to person in a flash.

He is talking about the effect of urbanization on disease. But the point is to use this as a metaphor for social media’s effect on our mental life. He says that perhaps diseases of the mind are now spreading quickly. As with urbanization, the trick with social media will be to obtain the benefits and to contain the risks.

Possibly related: in the Peterson/Haidt discussion I referred to the other day, they talk about how the sense of disgust may have evolve to protect people from disease. We tend to feel an instinctive disgust toward groups with customs and manners that differ from our own. If you can overcome this instinct to feel disgust when you are around foreigners, then you can benefit from their ideas and culture. But you increase somewhat your risk of contracting disease. Peterson describes Adolf Hitler as operating on the theory that having Jews or Gypsies in a population was like having rats in a factory. He was so concerned about the disease that might be spread by such creatures that he wanted them eradicated.

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2 Responses to Crowded and Unsanitary

  1. Matt says:

    I wonder what a CDC or WHO for social media would look like. Containing outbreaks of widespread trolling and identifying new types of trolls.

    Note: I’m not suggesting this as a serious proposal. I just think it’s an amusing analogy.

  2. Butler T. Reynolds says:

    That’s an interesting metaphor for social media that I had not considered before.

    Along those same lines, I have thought several times over the years about our distress over the news. When I was a kid, my parents’ exposure to the news was limited to small doses at regularly scheduled times of the day. Contact with others’ reactions to the day’s stories were also constrained.

    Now we can view and read news from all over the world throughout the day and night. Today we have to put conscious effort in to blocking out the day’s news as well as others’ opinions to it.

    In addition, we seem unable to put these news stories in perspective. A terrible event from across the country affects us emotionally like it happened just a few miles away.

    Perhaps today’s news is like spending all day at a Florida beach without sunscreen.

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