Popular journalist and blogger Rebecca Swann had been trying to convince her readers that the technical revolution has isolated human beings to such an alarming, distressing degree that we’re in danger of losing touch with reality. According to her most recent report, peppered with insights from respected doctors and Ivy League professors, the act of sitting in front of a computer screen for hours and hours at a time could be severely detrimental to one’s physical health not to mention one’s emotional well-being. We all knew this, but Rebecca’s claim had to do with intensity; the blog convinced us how close we are to actual physical and mental collapse.
On an ordinary August morning, Rebecca was blogging about menstrual blood when she realized her back was seriously aching and eyes were causing the words on her screen to appear blurry. (She’d been at it for over an hour.) She stood up on legs that could barely support her and limped pathetically to the front door.
The sun wasn’t as powerful as it would be a few hours later, but it warmed the air and warned New Yorkers about the blazing heat that was on its way. A delightfully cool breeze managed to make itself known every few minutes, invigorating virtually every child and adult in the park, especially a group of six extremely pregnant women dancing to music coming from a nearby ghetto blaster. Rebecca watched with astonishment and a huge smile. It was immediately clear that this was the kind of physical activity that was nonexistent in the lives of computer nerds.
Strolling slowly past feeble seniors, nubile teens, dogs on leashes, vendors with carts, and a peppy volleyball game in progress, Rebecca put her brain to work, trying to devise a dramatic way to make a statement about the pitfalls of computer dependency. It didn’t take long for her to come up with the Rebecca Swann Blogathon, the ultimate test of online endurance. This event would require her to blog continuously for one solid month without interruption (with the exception of two quick meals each day and six hours of sleep each night).
She would make note of every physical ache and mental malady. She would analyze each aspect of her life and discover which part was impacted the most. In order to completely analyze the effect this would have on the human body and mind, she asked for two volunteer bloggers to join her on this journey.
The request attracted more than three thousand enthusiastic candidates. In the end, Rebecca went with Cleve Greenfield of Frostproof, Florida and Polly Sanders-Himmelstein of Sublimity, Oregon (opposites sides of the country, deliberately). When asked why they wanted to take part, Cleve said he’d always been a good guinea pig and Polly confessed that she needed to contribute something more to society than shouting numbers (and letters) at the monthly bingo game hosted by Saint Mary’s Cornerstone Church, Sublimity.
The routine would begin at eight o’clock each morning with Rebecca assigning a topic for the day: music, politics, media, marriage, television, travel, fish, the circus, etc. The bloggers would blog about anything and everything relating to the subject. There would be no visits from friends, no phone calls from family. A five minute break every two hours was acceptable. Lunch would last twenty minutes, dinner thirty. Quitting time was midnight, with Rebecca, Polly and Cleve making note of their daily weight and word count. Polly and Cleve were to e-mail this information to Rebecca.
Rebecca made it unquestionably clear this wasn’t a contest; it was a study. There would be no winners or losers, so no reason to cheat. At the end of the month, Rebecca would fly Polly and Cleve to New York at her expense. They would stay at an upscale hotel in a downtown area and take part in a series of press events. Rebecca was certain she could pique the interest of a variety of media outlets and journal editors, many of whom she’d slept with.
On the morning of September 1st, Rebecca, Polly and Cleve were off and running (actually on and sitting), blogging about their assigned topic: the color blue. Everything from the sky to the ocean to denim jeans to uniforms of police officers was explored. By the end of the day, the expected back aches and stiff joints surfaced for all three bloggers, but these annoyances were strictly minor.
The topic for day number two was the prison system. Topic for day number three: dairy products. By now, a certain rhythm had been established, and the bloggers felt confident they would make it to the end of the month. Topic for day number four: fur. Day number five: phobias. By the end of the first week, Rebecca had lost two pounds, Polly had lost three, Cleve had lost six. Polly had begun to develop mild headaches which were relieved with aspirin. Because Cleve felt wired at the end of each session, he had terrible trouble falling asleep.
Week number two began with the topic of tooth care. The following day, the bloggers were assigned to write about really bad movies. Rounding out the week: travel, weddings, ice, weather, and loss of virginity. All three participants noted the fact that loneliness had begun to set in to a disturbing degree. They missed their friends and loved ones. They craved sunlight. They felt horribly isolated, wondering what was happening in the outside world.
Polly’s headaches became intense, and relief was only found in the form of prescription medication. As Cleve tried to fall asleep on Thursday night, flashing lights danced in his head. Rebecca started to have odd dreams involving blood, computer keyboards and being licked.
New topics included the Elizabethan era, coed dorms, palindromes, fashion trends, the Third Reich, sex trafficking, and the Great American Songbook. The experiment continued relatively smoothly despite the growing intensity of muscle aches, neck pain, hunger, isolation, joint stiffness, insomnia, dizziness, vitamin D deficiency, thigh sores, anxiety, and bizarre dreams. It wasn’t until the third week of the Rebecca Swann Blogathon that something went terribly wrong.
On this extremely windy Florida morning, Cleve had trouble waking up. When he finally emerged from a deep slumber, he struggled out of bed and nervously fumbled for his Nikes. He attempted to blog about the day’s topic which was death by asphyxiation, but his trembling hands prevented him from doing so. According to his wife Crystal, he stood up and walked across the room like a zombie. Then he grabbed his nine-millimeter handgun, threw on a blue baseball cap and headed outside, ignoring Crystal’s barrage of questions.
The wind whipped the trees and blew the blue cap off Cleve’s head, but he didn’t seem to care. Jogging through the stucco maze of apartment dwellings past clotheslines and stray cats, he remained focused on his destination of downtown Frostproof. When he arrived, he quickly inspected one parked car after the next, finally stopping at a white Ford Fusion. Standing a few feet from the automobile, he began shooting at its windows, doors and tires. He moved on to the car parked behind the Ford, a silver Pontiac G 8, and repeated the routine. Then he zoomed down the street and flew into a rampage, blasting at traffic lights and street lamps. No one was hurt, but pedestrians freaked out, and local police rushed to the scene. The ordinarily affable Cleve was handcuffed, driven to the police station and later thrown in the slammer. It was the most startling news story Frostproof had seen since septuagenarian Muriel Jenkins deliberately struck a fellow knitting club member in the eye with her knitting needle seven years earlier.
The next day’s topic was Japanese geishas. At exactly noon, Polly began to fidget. Uncomfortable in her ghostly white skin, she fell to the floor and rolled across the room. Arms outstretched and hands in tight fists, she began to rant in outbursts like those associated with Tourette’s syndrome. Then she got up and tried to set the house on fire. When her husband Sander prevented her from doing so, she picked up a metal folding chair and hurled it through the large living room window. Then she exited the house through the broken glass and climbed a tree, attempting to reach the sun. “N 37!” she shouted to the sky. “O 61!”
Paramedics were called. After Polly was lured down the tree trunk by a large slice of peach pie, she was escorted into an ambulance. “I can’t go to any darn hospital,” she insisted as the car roared across town with her in it, siren blasting. “I have to blog. Don’t you know that I’m a blogger? B 15, you morons!” She was admitted to the Myrtle Orloff Memorial Medical Center and sent to the mental health unit for observation.
Bleary-eyed, partially numb and suffering from buttock sores, Rebecca had just put her tofu casserole and savory mashed potatoes (230 calories) in the microwave. Then she headed outside aimlessly, as if in a trance, undressing along the way, each article of clothing falling to the ground.
When she stepped onto the busy sidewalk (naked at this point), she descended to her knees
and made eye contact with every person who passed by. “Take me,” she exclaimed to each, male or female, young or old. “Do what you will, but take me.” The warmth of the sun felt deliciously soothing on her skin.
Strangers stared. Some ran. Mothers covered the innocent eyes of their children. This was a sight few had ever seen. Residents from across the street gazed out windows. Car horns were honked by fascinated male drivers, creating the street equivalent of applause.
“Take me,” Rebecca continued to say.
The first taker was Bradford Brookner, a fifty year-old, twice divorced father of seven. The balding contractor took Rebecca by the hand and led her toward his beige Buick. Just before reaching the vehicle, a police car pulled over. Officers Davis and Crawford jumped out and promptly arrested Rebecca for indecent exposure. When asked her name, she clearly said, “Rebecca, like in Sunnybrook Farm.”
“Last name please?” Crawford inquired.
“Swann,” she announced with a kind of dreamy expression on her face. “Isn’t it pretty? Like the lovely, long-necked swimming bird but with a double n, as in dinner. Or sinner. Or Anne Sexton.”
Hands cuffed behind her back, she calmly climbed into the rear of the squad car. By this time, another officer had arrived on the scene, and he was questioning Bradford Brookner.
The leather seat felt uncomfortable against Rebecca’s bare skin. Instead of sitting upright, she stretched out on her side. “I’m worried about City National on Perry Street,” she said. “The bankers are plotting to kidnap me and use me as some kind of slave, so can we avoid that particular area?”
“We’ll take Riverside instead,” Crawford said.
“Now, would one of you do me an itsy-bitsy favor? I have a ferocious itch and can’t seem to scratch it. Would you do the honors?”
“Where’s the itch?” Davis inquired.
“Under my right breast. All you have to do is lift the breast and scratch the skin underneath. Here,” she said, leaning forward. “Go ahead.”
“I don’t think I can do that, Miss,” he responded.
“Of course you can, but you won’t,” she snapped. A few tense moments later, she said, “I have a serious problem.”
“What is it?” Davis asked.
“I’m not sure where I left my right hand. Have either of you seen it?”
It turned out Rebecca was dehydrated, and this condition caused hallucinations and schizophrenic-like behavior. Plus, she’d experienced a kind of psychotic break that would require intense therapy, experimental medication and observation.
During Rebecca’s recuperation, the blogs she’d written were reviewed by a number of renowned psychiatrists. Harvard-educated Dr. Yale Horner published his report in Psychology Today, and portions of it were picked up by Newsweek, Redbook, Wired, and the Sacramento Bee.
According to Dr. Horner, upon Rebecca’s return to the world away from the computer screen her first impulse was to have intimate physical contact with another human being regardless of age, gender or race. Dr. Horner concluded that the urge to be touched was so strong, so potent, that it didn’t matter who satisfied it.
Two weeks later, Rebecca was transferred to a recovery clinic in upstate New York. With rolling hills and spacious lawns, the place oozed with charm and tranquility. When Rebecca arrived, a dark-eyed, gravelly-voiced Greek nurse named Dimitra Zambarloukos greeted her. “Welcome,” she said in a cheerful tone. “Please call me either Dimitra or Nurse Zambarloukos. May I give you a tour of your temporary new home?” Rebecca said nothing, but she followed the robust woman.
Each room seemed more grandiose than the previous one, and Rebecca began to feel smaller and smaller until the ceiling seemed miles away. “I don’t think I’ll be able
to reach the tables or towel racks,” she said with fear in her eyes.
“Someone will help you,” Dimitra assured her. “You’ll always have someone nearby.”
A few residents smiled at Rebecca but she made eye contact with no one, remaining silent and suspicious.
“This is my favorite room in the facility,” Dimitra said with a warm smile, entering the library. “We are extremely well-stocked.” In addition to the numerous shelves of books, there was a row of computers, one after the next, all gleaming and identical. “If you’re in the mood to write or surf the internet, these computers are at your fingertips.”
“Oh heavens no,” Rebecca sadly admitted, shaking her head. “I don’t know how to work one of those machines.”