Computers vs. Personal Encounter
Why Computers Will Never Replace Personal Encounter
Personal computers have become ubiquitous within the last few years, but they are unlikely to replace the need for human companionship. Despite headlines of "internet addiction," studies suggest that the hours people spend on computers come mostly from time they would have spent watching television, not from personal relationships.
Still, the internet is changing how we shop, read, listen to music, and watch movies. This trend is expected to accelerate over the next 5 to 10 years as high speed connections become more affordable. Newspapers and magazines such as USA Today, Time, and OPEN EXCHANGE may ultimately have a larger readership online than in print. CD's and DVD's may soon become as obsolete as Victrolas.
Online classes and consultations should continue to grow over the coming decade. However, do not expect to see live, face-to-face group work and individual sessions disappear. On the contrary, a survey of students in continuing education classes listed "meeting new people" as their second most important reason for attending, just behind "mastering the chosen subject." In effect, the desire for personal contact was everybody's main reason for stepping out into the real world.
If virtual reality were indistinguishable from the real thing, the only objections to its widespread usage might be abstract and philosophical. At present, however, there are still several compelling practical limitations which have slowed the adoption of internet technology:
Gateways & Filters: The vastness of the internet makes it difficult to filter for appropriate content. A Google or Yahoo search on a chosen subject is likely to turn up tens of thousands of websites, far more than is practical to visit. Most people find out about their favorite sites by obtaining referrals the old fashioned wayfrom magazines, television, radio, and word-of-mouth.
Accountability: Except for a handful of "brand names," most of the content of the internet is posted by otherwise anonymous sources. Can you trust the author? The fact that web-based information can be published, revised, or contradicted with such ease diminishes its credibility. By comparison, bricks and mortar, print, and word-of-mouth are tangible and thus more accountable.
Safety: Again, can you trust the author? This is especially important if you are looking for companionship or love online.
Security: Identity theft may be overblown, but for many it is still a formidable barrier to internet commerce.
Access: A significant proportion of people still do not have access to the internet due to lack of time, money, or adequate training.
Ease of use: It's still simpler to read, watch TV, listen to radio, or ask a friend than it is to log on.
Reliability: Computers crash more often, too.
Force of habit: Why change what works? Gutenberg got it right the first time, and Alexander Graham Bell got it right the second time.
Touch: Dancing, martial arts, massage, and making love are lots more exciting and fun in the natural world than in virtual reality. No matter how real computer simulations become Star Trek's hollodeck or movies like The Matrix notwithstandingvirtual reality is still no substitute for actual reality. This isn't likely to change soon, but don't expect programmers to be deterred from trying!
As reported in USA Today, August 13, 2003, the rapid growth of online support groups apparently hasn't wiped out Americans' appetite for the face-to-face kind: Nearly one out of 5 attend groups at some point in their lives.
National surveys show about 26 million have participated in self-help groups and 11 million attend now, says Stanford University psychologist Keith Humphreys. "Some are going to want high-touch and not just high-tech," so they don't bare their troubles on the Internet," Humphreys told the American Psychological Association meeting in Toronto.
"We don't know how much good the online groups do because they haven't been carefully studied yet," he says. But Humphreys adds there's solid evidence that face-to-face peer support groups really help people with weight problems, mental disorders, addictions, and bereavement.
Recovering alcoholics and drug addicts who go to peer support groups run up lower medical bills than those who try to go it alone, and patients with mental illness are less likely to be hospitalized again if they participate in self-help groups. In the past decade, physicians and therapists alike have become more favorably inclined toward peer support.
As reported in Time magazine, August 4, 2003, meditation is an ancient discipline, but scientists have only recently developed tools sophisticated enough to see what goes on in your brain when you do it. At the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Richard Davidson has used brain imaging to show that meditation shifts activity in the prefrontal cortex (right behind our foreheads) from the right hemisphere to the left. Davidson's research suggests that by meditating regularly, the brain is reoriented from a stressful fight-or-flight mode to one of acceptance, a shift that increases contentment.
The popularity of meditation is reflected in mushrooming attendance at centers throughout the country, not just California. Indeed, the Catskills hotels in New York are turning into meditation retreats so quickly that the Borscht Belt is being renamed the Buddhist Belt. Famous meditators include Goldie Hawn, Shania Twain, Heather Graham, Richard Gere, and Al Gore.
"Meditation is like gasoline," says Robert Thurman, director of the Tibet House (and father of actress Uma Thurman). "In Asia meditation was a sort of a natural tool anyone could use. We should detach it from just being Buddhist."
Meditation is being recommended more and more by physicians as a way to prevent or at least control the pain of chronic diseases like heart conditions, AIDS, cancer, and infertility. It is also being used to restore balance in the face of such psychiatric disturbances as depression, hyperactivity, and attention deficit disorder. "What's exciting about the new research is how meditation can train the mind and reshape the brain," says author Daniel Goleman.
As reported in the online environmental magazine Grist (www.gristmagazine.com), Yale University is setting new standards for healthful, organic, and delicious cafeteria dining. The ivy league institution has teamed up with Alice Waters (the chef who changed the face of American cuisine through Chez Panisse, her California restaurant) to create the Sustainable Food Project. This fall, Yale students who eat at Berkeley College, one of the university's 12 dining halls, will be greeted with locally grown produce carefully crafted into "Real Food" nutritious, simple, healthful meals.
The project is designed not only to feed the students better, but also to educate them about the importance of what they eat and its relationship to economics, agriculture, and the environment. Real Food is a major contrast from the heavily processed foods usually used to meet the large-scale demands of university dining halls, but everyone involved is optimistic about the outcome. Project organizers say that the local farmers are ecstatic, that the students are interested, and that other big-name schools from Harvard to Stanford are eager to hop on board.
Straight to the source: New York Times, Marc Santora, August 16, 2003
As reported in the environmental magazine Grist (www.gristmagazine.com), human activity is almost certainly the cause of global warming. The Earth has been warmer since 1980 than at any time in the past 2,000 years, according to the most comprehensive study to date of climatic history. The study authors believe their research, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, provides solid confirmation that human activity is altering the climate. "You can't explain this rapid warming of the late 20th century in any other way," said study author Philip Jones of the University of East Anglia in the U.K. "It's a response to a buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere."
Jones and a colleague from the University of Virginia studied tree rings, ice cores, historical records, and other data to construct a picture of the global climate over the past 2,000 years. Environmental activists believe that this is a compelling argument for abandoning fossil fuels in favor of renewables such as solar-hydrogen.
Straight to the source: London Guardian, Ian Sample, September 1, 2003.
As reported in the online environmental magazine Grist (www.gristmagazine.com), Arnold Schwarzenegger is trying to paint himself with a green brush as he revs up his campaign for the California governorship.
Though he's running as a Republican, he's carving out positions at odds with the Bush administration on a number of issues, from logging in the Sierra Nevada to regulating carbon-dioxide emissions from vehicles to pushing energy conservation and solar power. Schwarzenegger is even talking about converting his gas-guzzling Hummer to run on clean-burning hydrogen. His campaign released an eight-page position paper on environmental issues, put together with help from Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., a prominent environmentalist and a cousin of the candidate's wife, Maria Shriver. But enviros aren't jumping on the Schwarzenegger bandwagon; most oppose efforts to recall current Gov. Gray Davis (D). Nevertheless, it's reassuring for activists to know that all top candidates are at least giving a nod to environmental concerns. As predicted in previous editorial on these pages, whether one is Democrat or Republican, the future will be green.
Straight to the source: Los Angeles Times, Weiss and Bustillo, September 7, 2003.
In the wake of 9/11, unanswered questions with respect to government preparation and timely response have led to charges of complicity. And these charges are not just coming from the usual fringes that can be easily dismissed as "conspiracy nuts." As reported on PBS's Now With Bill Moyers (9/12/03), a prominent group of widows of husbands killed in the twin towers event have accused government officials, including the Director of the FBI, of stonewalling and cover-up.
Why, when the FBI had been investigating the possibility of exactly this kind of attack for 10 years, did Condoleeza Rice state in her press conference following 9/11 that the government never considered planes to be an instrument of terrorism? Why, after the attack of the twin towers, when Air Force pilots in Washington demanded to fly, were they ordered to stand down? How was the government able to obtain and release the names of the alleged hijackers scant hours after the attacks, despite claims that they no advance knowledge of the hijackers' plans? Why did President Bush suspend all formal inquiry into these matters? What did they know and when did they know it?
Not since the JFK assassination has so much suspicion been aroused. Is the government blameless, merely incompetent, or is something far more sinister going on? Several years ago, hawkish members of the Bush administration authored a document, "Project for a New American Century," referring to the need for a another "Pearl Harbor"-type attack to mobilize the American people. Until 9/11 the Bush presidency was clearly perceived to be failing. Conveniently, the "War on Terrorism" has given it a new lease on lifeup to now.
Da Vid of the Light Party has collected a host of websites dedicated to uncovering the truth about 9/11. Please see p. 22 for details.