Are we buried in social contact?
Many years ago a man named Calhoun, not he of “Go west, young man, go west” fame, decided to study the social effects of crowding in mice.  He built a cage he reckoned had enough room, nesting sites, eating stations, water stations and bedding material sources for well over a thousand mice and prepared to watch the fun as a seething mass of mice piled up. 

The mice didn’t make it to a population of a thousand.  Births slowed and then abruptly stopped.  It’s obvious from our perspective that the mechanism that limits population had cut in.  As if to drive the point home he selected some males, which of course were unable to sire pups in that environment, and put them in cages with females of known fertility.  They still had no offspring.  That might have been enough to prove that it wasn’t the crowding itself that was effective.  None the less Calhoun convinced himself that it was all social and provides us with a rather charming account of the behavior of the privileged mice. 

On the strength of his understanding of it all as social he predicted that similar excessive social contacts would lead to the human birth rate falling to zero by the year 1992.  That didn’t pan out.  There is at this time no city or country, bar the Vatican, that has zero births, not yet anyway.  And all that was before the internet and social media.

None the less there are those who fear that the internet will destroy our minds.  (Will the Internet Eat Your Brain ECONOMIST vol. 422 no. 8902 August 30, 2025 page 72 reviewing Susan Greenfield Mind Change: How Digital Technologies are Leaving their Mark on our Brains Rider) The review suggests that yes, too much social networking, and other things like too much reliance on Google to do our remembering for us, will be our downfall.  The review is polite but skeptical.

We don’t need social networking on the internet to destroy us.  The social opportunities offered by a bicycle are enough to do the job.  If a pedestrian social pool is demarcated by an hour’s walk, that’s enough to visit a hundred farms.  This arrangement was stable in England for a thousand years.  Then some Scot invented the bicycle, which easily doubles the distance.  Now it’s four hundred farms.  It appears that that is too many.  At all events the automobile blows the calculation right out of the water, and now you can add jet travel and instantaneous world spanning flirtation. 

At least somebody is looking for trouble if rather looking in the wrong direction. 

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