Human Exceptionalism

What We Are Becoming: Dehumanization in Cyberspace

One tragic suicide and one ridiculous story in the last week illustrate the impact that cyberspace is having on our interconnectedness and mutual concern. The first is the horrible case of a college student who committed suicide in front of his webcam so it could be witnessed by the multitudes. From the story:

A college student committed suicide by taking a drug overdose in front of a live webcam as some computer users egged him on, others tried to talk him out of it, and another messaged OMG in horror when it became clear it was no joke. Some watchers contacted the Web site to notify police, but by the time officers entered Abraham Biggs’ home a scene also captured on the Internet.

What a horror for the young man and his folks. Beyond the personal tragedy, it seems that for increased millions, life has become profoundly voyeuristic, with hours and hours of one’s life that can never be regained watching others live their lives (and die their deaths) through the proverbial uncurtained window, people who usually know they are being watched and are happy to put on a show.

Then there is the sad story of the couple who are divorcing because the husband cheated on the wife in a “Second Life” fantasy. From the story:

A woman in Cornwall, England, has filed papers to divorce her husband on the grounds of “unreasonable behavior” after she discovered that his character in the online role-playing game Second Life had been having an affair.

Amy Taylor, 28, whose online alter ego is named Laura Skye, said that her husband’s virtual infidelity exacted a pain that cut as deep as any extramarital liaison. “It may have started online, but it existed entirely in the real world and it hurts just as much,” she said. “His was the ultimate betrayal. He had been lying to me.”

So many of us are now apparently so dissatisfied with real life that we prefer to live in two-dimensional fantasy worlds, which eventually catches up with–and harms–the people who seek to escape reality in cyberspace.

I think this also explains the appeal of entertainment depicting average people who become extraordinary by taking a magic pill or being injected with an elixir, such as brilliantly warned against in the science fiction program The 4400. Fantasy Land used to be a fun section aimed at younger children in Disneyland. Now, it is the way many people live their lives.

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