Am I Jonesing for the Internet?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I’m feeling a little agitated and jittery today. My internet access is down due to some nasty snow and wind. Are the two related? They might be. I know I’m certainly missing my twitter friends and feeling less in touch with the world.

How long is this weather going to hold? I can’t look that up. Sure, I could pull out a radio and listen in, if I had one. I might somewhere, but I’m at the mercy of the broadcaster to decide when to report the weather and how much of it to report.

Some argue that internet access should be a basic human right. Does this point of view hold water? I suppose it could be argued that since the internet allows us to draw together into a larger community that it is an essential part of improving the human condition. Its use in political organizing and to connect dissidents in repressive regimes can certainly help make the case for it as a basic human right.

Is the jitteriness really from not having the internet? My doctor did just increase my dose of modafinil, and my body might be reacting to the increase in alertness and stimulation. Last time I was off the net for a while I didn’t jones like this, so maybe it is indeed the medication. I’m not sure.

But am I just trying to justify an unhealthy dependence on the internet? Perhaps. I’m isolated due to my lack of driver’s license and rural location, however, and rarely have any sort of other connection to humanity. Apart from Sophie, that is. So is my reliance on the internet unhealthy? I can’t give you a real answer to that. All I know is that right now I feel a need to connect with good friends and inform myself about the world. I can’t say that that’s entirely unhealthy.

Empathy and Schadenfreude

Friday, December 11, 2009

Empathy is the ability to look at another person, see their emotions and experience a sympathetic emotional response. It’s an ability present in humans and chimps, and perhaps some of the other equally intelligent animals out there. It’s what helps us care for and about those in need around us and rejoice in their success.

It’s generally considered to be a female trait, but I think it helps to define us as human beings. An uncaring perspective, relegated to simply reacting to the emotions of others without understanding them, can lead to a worldview unable to take that dimension of the human condition into consideration.

It’s easy to see how empathy could have helped our distant ancestors. With the ability to care about the suffering of others they were able to see a need for compassion. This mutual support would have allowed for closer knit communities and more caring for those most in need.

Some studies have found that people with conservative viewpoints are less likely to have fully developed senses of empathy. It can generally be seen in calls to war, the subjugation of others and attempts to force personal worldviews onto the lives of others. Rejection of the importance of the emotional component of human life can make for an inhumane person that fails to sway any but the most angry and bigoted of people.

On the opposite side of empathy is schadenfreude, or taking pleasure in the suffering of others. It’s often associated with a desire to see someone punished for perceived crimes. For instance: a working class man chuckling when his boss gets taken to jail for tax evasion. Studies have revealed that this feeling is much more prevalent in men than women. Whether that’s a cultural phenomenon or endemic to the human condition is hard to determine.

Possible evolutionary explanations for schadenfreude are that it helped encourage the punishment of those who acted against the interests of the community. A troublemaker would have been a big problem in early human groups, as survival was a main concern.

Do schadenfreude and a lack of empathy make for a lack of humanity? Perhaps not schadenfreude, since in a sense it holds us together in the desire to punish those who make life harder for all of us. A lack of empathy, however, seems to certainly make a person less humane, but less human? Perhaps denying a person’s humanity is a stance that in itself removes our own humanity. But that could just be my empathy talking.

A Trip to the United Kingdom

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I have never had the pleasure of traveling to Europe before. In fact, I’ve never left the borders of North America, having only visited parts of Canada and the US. In June 2010, it seems that this is going to change; my father will be taking me to Belgium both to visit relatives and see the sights. Realizing how easy it would be to simply take some of that time to visit the United Kingdom gave me the idea to have a few tweetups with my UK tweeples, and of course, see the sights.

My basic idea is to take a week of my European trip to travel through the UK. I’m planning to have stays in London, Liverpool and Edinburgh. There’ll be a plane trip from Halifax to London, then a train trip to Liverpool, followed by another train trip to Edinburgh, and finally a plane to Brussels to join my father in Belgium.

I’m planning to get to London between the 10th and 12th of June, with a departure from Edinburgh between the 18th and 20th of the same month. How much time I spend in each city will depend on what I end up planning for them.

Should I put Canadian flags on my luggage and backpacks? Is that still a good idea, or has our current government soured the world to Canada? Stephen Harper is an ass, and I’m terribly embarrassed that my fellow Canadians elected his party of knuckle-dragging, petroleum-guzzling, bigoted troglodytes. I also apologize for Céline Dion. I should have nipped that in the bud at the beginning.

There are some things I’d definitely like to do, but as for the rest of my time I’d like some input from people living in the areas as to what’s worth doing. Tweetups are a must! I have no objection to multiple tweetups in each city, and I’d encourage such behaviour. Hehehe…

Meeting famous UK tweeters would be cool. I have no expectations to meet Graham Linehan, Stephen Fry, James Moran, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost or Robert Llewelyn, but I certainly wouldn’t object to it. Hehehe… I don’t know if that’s the full list of the UK twitter celebs I follow, since I’m without Internet access as I write this. Not sure where Neil Gaiman will be then, since I believe he lives most of the time at his home in the US.

If I could apologize to Douglas Adams’ widow in person for being an ass to him through email in the ‘90s, that’d be great. I pissed him off royally and have always felt bad about it. I’d think that he shared his frustration and anger with her, so I hope she wouldn’t try to kick me in the groin. Slap in the face would be acceptable, however, since I was an enormous asshole to him.

My general goals for the UK leg of the trip are as follows:

  • Meet my tweeples
  • Visit various structures, both historic and pre-historic
  • Enjoy the culinary delights of England and Scotland
  • See the countryside
  • See Hadrian’s wall
  • Experience English weather

My specific goals for London:

  • Visit the Tower of London
  • Visit the Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park
  • Get in a good bit of fish & chips
  • Take him out to visit the Queen, always shouts out something obscene
  • Maybe see Buckingham Palace

My specific goals for Liverpool:

  • Visit Beatles related locales (yes, I’m a Beatles fan)
  • Visit the port
  • Do something typically Liverpool (I’ll need suggestions)
  • Check out Manchester, see if I can find Claude

My specific goals for Edinburgh:

  • Visit Elliott clan related locations (I’m an Elliott)
  • Try some authentic haggis (Hehehe…)
  • Take in some traditional Scottish music
  • See the Scottish moors in moonlight and daylight

I’ll be staying in hostels while I’m there. If you know of any specific ones that have better reputations or have a good cost to benefit ratio, that’d be great. If you feel so inclined, I’ll also accept a camping mattress and sleeping bag in your broom closet.

There are a couple of issues I’ll have to deal with. First and foremost is that I’m not much of a driver. I may have my complete license by then, but I wouldn’t be comfortable driving on the other side of the road when I’m so inexperienced. Might try it out just for fun.

Trains and buses will be my main modes of transit, unless I can get into better shape and bike a bit. I don’t know the price of bicycle rental, but it may be cheaper than buses. I’ll need some input on that.

I can’t drink, so anything that requires drinking is out of the question. I wouldn’t mind visiting pubs, as long as I’m assured of non-alcoholic beverages. Anyone with me should feel free to imbibe to their desired level of inebriety. I may be happy to be a designated driver in that case. Me sober is definitely likely to be safer than someone drunk off their ass.

If I get into better shape, I should be fine. However, at the moment I tire relatively easily. That’s why I’d like a week; I can take things in slowly. However, if I do manage to be healthier it’d be great to see more rather than less.

Some sort of help from my local tweeples would be handy. Maybe someone available during the week days to help guide me to where it is I’m going, or someone to help plan outings the day before. I’ll try to look up as much as possible ahead of time online, but someone local usually knows the “hidden” spots as well, and company is always welcome. I’ll pay in kebabs and chips if desired. Hehehe…

Places that have free WiFi are very welcome. I’ll bring along my iPod Touch to tweet and blog. Probably cheaper and easier to find a UK USB charger over there when I arrive rather than look for one here. If I could find a way to upload pictures from my camera that’d be great. Not sure if my iPod could do it.

Now that this is in the works, I’m looking forward to it quite a lot. My mother’s side is all descended from Scotch and Anglo-Saxon lines. It’ll be interesting to see the Motherland. Hehehe… It’ll be a big bonus to meet my UK tweeples, since some of you have become really good friends. Hopefully everything will work out nicely and I’ll have a fantastic time!

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