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Erica Jong Headshot

Lost in Laputa

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May I humbly suggest that our financial crisis has a great deal to do with how virtual our lives have become? If you go to the marketplace with coin or something to barter and you exchange it for something to eat, money has tangible value. But if you sit at your computer, dividing up "tranches," you are imagining value where none exists. The numbers on the screen may convince you that what you own has risen in value. But where is the real value? You can't eat the ones and zeroes behind the screen. You can't even imagine them.

Rewarding people for creating things of imaginary value may trick us into believing we are rich, but are we? What lies behind those numbers on the screen? And what do those "tranches" represent? We seem to have created a world where infinite zeroes represent wealth, but if we stop believing in zeroes, we are suddenly impoverished.

Many supposedly successful people spend more time with virtual interaction than flesh and blood people. Our credo becomes: I Blackberry therefore I am. Have we considered how this changes the way we see ourselves and the world?

In Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Lemuel Gulliver voyages to a country called Laputa all of whose denizens are lost inside themselves. With one eye turned inward and the head perpetually inclined either to the right or to the left, these curious creatures cannot communicate with each other at all. They utilize instead the services of a "Flapper" to hit them in the face with a bladder full of dried peas when another Laputan wishes to communicate something.

"Their outward Garments were adorned with the Figures of Suns, Moons, and Stars, interwoven with those of Fiddles, Flutes, Harps, Trumpets, Guittars, Harpsichords, and many more Instruments of Musick, unknown to us in Europe. I observed here and there many in the Habit of Servants, with a blown Bladder fastned like a Flail to the End of a short Stick, which they carried in their Hands. In each Bladder was a small Quantity of dried Pease, or little Pebbles, (as I was afterwards informed.) With these Bladders they now and then flapped the Mouths and Ears of those who stood near them, of which Practice I could not then conceive the Meaning. It seems the Minds of these People are so taken up with intense Speculations, that they neither can speak, nor attend to the Discourses of others, without being rouzed by some external Taction upon the Organs of Speech and Hearing; for which Reason those Persons who are able to afford it always keep a Flapper (the Original is Climenole) in their Family, as one of their Domesticks; nor ever walk abroad or make Visits without him. And the Business of this Officer is, when two or more Persons are in Company, gently to strike with his Bladder the Mouth of him who is to speak, and the right Ear of him or them to whom the Speaker addresses himself. This Flapper is likewise employed diligently to attend his Master in his Walks, and upon Occasion to give him a soft Flap on his Eyes; because he is always so wrapped up in Cogitation, that he is in manifest Danger of falling down every Precipice, and bouncing his Head against every Post and in the Streets, of jostling others, or being jostled himself into the Kennel."

Have we become like the Laputans, forever attending to our Blackberries, believing them more than the lives around us? Have we refused to see and hear what is happening in the marketplace because we are so intrigued by the screens flashing before our eyes?

I think the answer is clear.