I love the sights and sounds of late summer days. As the day wears on, the sun slowly paints a fleeting trail of golden light on mountain faces and trees to make way for the moonrise, accompanied by the rising rhythmic chorus of crickets and katydids. It’s as if nature has slowed the clocks to make sure that we pay attention to the show it is graciously providing. Then, the trance is broken by the glaring sirens of a nearby band of cicadas determined to drown out all of the other voices. I get angry at their rudeness and shouting, and curse their senseless noise…
But then my mouth slowly angles into a knowing smile as I remember that they are no different than all the other singing insects in the growing darkness – yearning to be heard by just the right listener, who empathizes with their earnest calls of “I’m here, I’m here…please love me!”.
Every time I walk back down the hallway to my office in the ECC and I see students pass, one by one, with their heads tilted down to their glowing screens, I sigh, and think of the nightsingers. Of course, we are all just like those insects, checking our posts and messages, to see if just the right listener has answered our calls for connection cast out into the darkness of cyberspace.
But there lurks a predator in the darkness of the woods that preys upon our need to bond. The Svengali* is stealthy and beguiling, offering nothing more than an amplifier to our voices and the potential for a receptive audience. Its power lies in its behavioral surveillance machinery geared to recognize the nightsingers’ interests and moods in order to corral them into silos of opposing camps. Once self-identity with these camps creates a background of conflict and white noise among them, the clients move in for the kill. The clients have been very patient. Over decades of plying discreet incentives, they have dreamed of this day when the raucous nightsingers are finally utterly distracted and commercialized for those like themselves to exploit like a blank canvas for the maestro’s benevolent touch, exquisite sensibilities, and voracious appetites.
Alas, lament the nightsingers, manipulated into a cacophony of rudeness and shouting like the cicadas, for our true voices and emphatic calls for love and connection will increasingly be drown out in the misshapen forest of cyberspace…unless…
*Svengali: A fictional character in George du Maurier’s 1895 novel, Trilby, who manipulates and exploits a young Irish/Scottish girl by making her a famous singer with a sublime voice.
Thomas E. Webster has taught at Ewha since 2005, and is the current head of the College English Curriculum Committee in the Global Language Education Office (GLEO). He has a PhD in education, an MEd in teaching second languages, and an MFA in photography. His research focuses on perceptions and uses of technology in education, and he is currently researching how smartphones and social media affect students and society.