Clinton’s Sex Life is Depressing

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
19 September, 2017
Editorial: 133
Fecha de publicación original: 15 septiembre, 1998

You can’t have your cake and eat it

Millions of Americans have just discovered that the sex life of their president, which is on the lips of all and sundry, might be causing them enormous depression and turning them into lonely beings. And this is not because of excessive admiration for the unattainable heights reached by the present incumbent at the White House, nor of envy, disappointment, disgust, or their own impotence in the face of the big chief’s erotic gymnastics. The reason for their misery is, in fact, that they discovered all the details of the Lewinsky case from the wrong source namely, the Internet. They had been warned only a few weeks ago by Carnegie Mellon University, no less, the very centre which gave birth to ArpaNet –the precursor of the Internet–, that the Net would have this effect on its users: leading them bit by bit into a state of loneliness and depression. A study done at this famous university came to this conclusion after interviewing 169 of the 60 million people that inhabit the Internet. A typical survey “made in USA” in which conclusions are valid for the whole world. What a pity that researchers missed the opportunity of getting better results from the digital publication of the Starr report.

In the 80s I ran the Health supplement on El Periódico de Catalunya. Every three days, reports of this kind landed on my desk. Some university research team gathered 30 people in a room and made them gorge themselves on olive oil for three weeks until, logically enough, they came to the conclusion that the Mediterranean diet was, at the very least, of dubious benefit to world health. In the same way fish of various colours, foods prepared with this salt or that, fruit of different types, cooking and work habits etc. fell by the wayside. One thing that always drew my attention was that nothing was ever said about the guinea pigs concerned. Were they happy in their private lives? Did their emotional affairs run as smooth as silk or were they rocky? What about their relationships with their children? And what kind of children were they themselves? Did their lives fit the models of the American myth? Were they more worried about the green of the dollar or that of the lettuce in their diet? In other words, what exactly was left of their life styles after all these studies of extreme behaviour?

Something similar is happening with all this talk about the Internet leading to loneliness and depression (there are others who together reach for the comets that travel across our solar system). I don’t have any scientific data at hand –nor any real possibility of conducting my own surveys–, but one suspects that the manic-depressives and lonely souls that abound in our society without having to shoot bits into their veins were not waiting around for the Internet to cure them of maladies induced by so many other factors. To take an example closer to us, television had already turned the traditional, tribal, talkative family circle into a zombified semi-circle. Thank goodness for the fact that we were still able to go down to a bar or the marketplace and talk about the programmes we’d seen on the goggle box, otherwise we would never have recovered in time to get onto the Internet.

On the other hand, there is one factor that these studies never take into account: the newcomers. A flood of internauts enter the data networks everyday with all too predictable results: they never find what they are looking for and technology deals with them according to a perfectly defined version of Murphy’s Law. If there is information out there for which one needs to take more than two steps, one usually stops on the previous step. So, misery and depression are predictable in people with a propensity for them. If the world was awful before, it is even more so when something as glorified as the Internet doesn’t work.

Those of us who have spent years on the Net have a very different experience. Our circle of acquaintances– and even friends– never stops growing. For the first time, one of the tenets of anthropology has been turned upside down: no matter how much political, economic and social systems change, human beings hardly ever transcend the tribal limits for numbers of acquaintances namely more or less a hundred people. This is the frontier of the oral tradition cooked and disseminated by human groupings, both in the rural and urban contexts. The Internet has shaken these figures and has done away with the very line demarcating these contexts, both on a global and a local level. So, possibly, our depression and loneliness derives from, amongst other things, our inability to manage just the opposite, the all-engulfing overpopulation around us.

Nevertheless, after all these years in the Net, there are undoubtedly times when one has to make an active effort to overcome depressive tendencies. In the case of Spain and Latin America, for example, these are often induced by one’s Telefonica bill or its actively hostile policies towards those that wish to do something constructive on the Net. Or, when one would like to turn one’s lonely work on the Internet into a rewarding business venture with some friends (money and pleasure) and instead come up against the extraordinary bureaucratic and fiscal difficulties which send us back to being Lone Rangers in cyberspace fast. At these times even a good digital strike –like the one against Telefónica last week in Spain– is enough to make us feel better and show us that we are not as lonely as they would have us believe. A single action of this kind proves the value and virtues of interactivity. And it teaches us that what is important, as always, is not technology but its social impact, something which depends, as this concept implies, on what each individual does with it. We could say the same of Clinton. It isn’t the sex that is wrong, just what you do with it in what circumstances. But Bill already knows a lot about that.