The World Wide Web Is Even Smaller Than You Think



Since I began the blog, or Web log, that I do for the Payson Roundup, two people have been at each other's throats. I've often wondered why, especially since one of them recently spoke of the other one in these terms: "He was nice and friendly when he lived and worked here. He just has a chip on his shoulder."

Their hostility toward each other, their constant rush to anger, got me thinking. I think I may know what the problem is.

I spent a year in Iceland as part of a squadron of young men sent up there during the Cold War to set up and operate a radar station, which would keep an eye on the Russians. Once the main part of the mission was completed, getting the radar up and running, the 192 Connecticut Air National Guardsmen had very, very little to do except for working, eating, and sitting in the barracks. There was no television, of course, and the only radio station was a military station with mostly boring programs. The barracks were Quonset huts with no windows in them, just translucent fiberglass panels that let in a little light -- when there was any light to let in.

We were so close to the Arctic Circle, that in December, daylight lasted a whole 20 minutes. If you blinked, you missed it. Sunrise and sunset happened at the same time in December. The sun popped up, took one look at Iceland, and pulled in its head like a frightened turtle. Even if there had been windows in the Quonset huts, there would have been little to see through them -- just more squat grey Quonset huts, looking like tin cans cut in half. Iceland is often clouded over because it sits in a permanent low-pressure area. In any direction, on or off base, what the men saw were gray skies, gray soil, gray crushed-rock roads, gray boulders, and human beings who looked as cold and gray as their surroundings. Except when there was snow on the ground, of course -- six feet of it, at times, more at others.

There were no trees. Honestly, none. And no bushes either. And none of something else -- women. The expression was that there was a beautiful Icelandic woman behind every tree. Truer words were never spoken. The result? With young men packed together in a small space with nothing to do except look at each other? It took virtually nothing to get an argument started. Little things, things that would normally have been ignored, or perhaps have gone unnoticed, escalated into full-blown fistfights in seconds. One man shot his thumb off to get sent home. Another tried to kill our section NCO with a boning knife while he was sleeping, because, so he said, "It seemed like a good idea at the time." A third slashed his wrists in eighteen places with a straight razor and fought the medics like a tiger as they carried him out on stretcher to the hospital, where they barely managed to save his life."

It's called "cabin fever." It happens when people are too close for too long. Little things grow out of proportion and so does the response to them. I think that's what has happened with the two people on the blog. Though they never see each other, the virtual space they occupy on the blog is small, and the result is a new form of cabin fever. People halfway around the planet from each other can now get on each other's nerves.

Ain't technology wonderful?

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