Carpal Tunnel, a metaphor for our virtual world?


In the age of global communications, long-distance connectivity, and telepresence, could Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, that mysterious illness from the nineties be a metaphor for our time?

While many doctors swear that the Carpal Tunnel refers to a nerve in the hand, pictured above, I believe the syndrome refers to something a lot more complex than mere nerve pain. Think about it. As the human-machine interface becomes more complex, and technology begins to magnify the power of the computer user, many of us will begin to experience a “virtual hand” that operates deep within the machine, clicking away at windows and carrying out invisible operations that impact and effect the lives of millions.

The result ironically is something akin to nerve pain — the pressure feedback, but not from a physical hand, but a more virtually magnified limb.

Often mistaken for repetative stress, Carpel Tunnel Syndrome, significes something a lot more sinister than mere pain. Where exactly is one’s hand when moving a window on a virtual desktop? The mind-body, hand-eye coordination needed to achieve the miracle of modern computing has a high price.

At first there is the simple tap, and click click of the finger. Then there are the feedback loops built into professional programmes that funnel information back along the same neural paths. Virtual Impact. Over years, the brain is educated by the machine into accepting or rejecting various stimuli.

Take the neurosurgeon operating on a patient via remote telepresence. Such an event once considered a science fiction impossiblity is now an everyday occurance. Without telepresence, the force feedback of points and clicks, a wrong snip or click-cut could have both legal and moral ramifications, not to mention signifying physical disaster.

It is in this mysterious area of virtuality where South Africans are increasingly become more hooked in, more connected, or disconnnected, as more of us experience the dreaded Carpel Tunnel, that accidents like Koeberg occur.

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