20 Teen

20 teenage girls are exhibiting signs of Tourette’s like symptoms in a rural New York State small town and the world’s media have descended on this hamlet like it’s the site of the second coming (or pick your own religious rapture moment).

They call it a medical mystery; they have tried to involve Erin Brockovich – once played by Julia Roberts in the movie Erin Brockovich – a legal investigator who has made millions for others in similar hamlets who had the bad luck of being near chemical spill sites or other manmade disasters caused by companies who cared little for the “little people”.

It has been blamed on the Internet; on Facebook; on too much texting and talking – on loose morals –Of course loose morals… what else could it be…

They have looked for signs of PANDA – pediatric autoimmune infection and they have prayed for the girls.

On the other hand, it was good for the local economy – all those content hounds spent money.

Questions persist – but Mass Hysteria seems to be the clearest theory…and of course the specialists are weighing in on its rarity and point us all back to media and social networking for making it all the worse.


Has no one ever heard of the Salem Witch Trials in what is now the Eastern United States in the 1600’s or read the Hawthorne novel The Scarlet Letter – don’t think Facebook was around then…

What about the Dancing Plague in Medieval Europe (see case #1 here) when large groups of people, sometimes thousands at a time, danced uncontrollably? Historical documents report the dancing originated from one woman dancing on the streets…which led to a dancing mania including screaming, shouting, and singing. Participants claimed to have had visions or hallucinations…and some died from exhaustion.

Don’t think that Twitter spread that one….

Or…what about the cotton mill prank in Northern England in the 18th century – one worker put a mouse in another woman’s dress causing the woman to fall into convulsions.  A rumor began – that the convulsions were caused by an open bag of imported cotton – and the other factory workers began experiencing severe violent convulsions. The factory had to temporarily shut down because so many had been “infected”.

Similar stories emerge from every corner of the world. In present day Tanzania, near the border of Kenya, the Tanganyika laughter epidemic of 1962 is believed to have originated in a school classroom, perpetuated by the children and parents who then transmitted it to the surrounding area. Other schools in other villages, comprising thousands of people, were all affected in the same way.

And, let’s not forget the stain on the US of McCarthyism in the 1950’s and of course in Germany with Nazism in the 30’s and 40’s (“a response to the belief that Germany was suffering from an acute disease”) – both having elements of Mass Hysteria and imagine both – I shudder – in the digital age….

My point is that we are at an inflection moment – and that maybe this is just one small example of the issue.

Not everything is a result of our digital world. Sure, in this case, digital channels make it easier to spread the story globally and of course with speed – but in their day – the other incidents made their way around as well.

Coveting a new life style with no way to fulfill it; winds of change causing fear; get me out of here I’m suffocating; stress because my local society demands adherence to the old; tics and twitching for some…violence and death for others – sound familiar?

Look at any news feed – any day – 24/7 and count the number of stories that fit the above scenarios and open any history book that details those inflection eras and you will find more of the same.

The dichotomy of our particular inflection point is that while we come together, in unprecedented numbers, in networks like Facebook – the notion that we have become a smaller more cohesive world is belied by the silos being created by the very same and powerful tools by those who are exploiting them for evil and as bad by those who limit or forbid their use for the very same reasons.

Never have we had more potential for good and for bad. Never have we been able to harness technology to do so much for and so much against humanity.

So once again – maybe the issue isn’t technology – much like it isn’t physical aliment.


“A bodily disease, which we look upon as whole and entire within itself, may, after all, be but a symptom of some ailment in the spiritual part.”
The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne

Maybe – just maybe – it’s time to look at our lives; take stock; take a step back – and look for solutions that don’t have magic in them; that aren’t contingent upon the next big thing; or reliant on digital connectivity vs. human connection….

And then maybe we can use the power that we have been given to do great things like cure disease and end war…and those girls at LeRoy High School in Upstate New York can go back to posting and texting without twitching and ticing……

What do you think?


Related posts:

Comments are closed.