'I'm always looking for the Hows and the Whys and the Whats,' said Muskrat, 'That is why I speak as I do. You've heard of Muskrat's Much-in-Little, of course?'
'No,' said the child. 'What is it?'
- The Mouse and his Child. Russell Hoban.

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Monday, 26 September 2011

Losing Touch

For some time now a theory has been coagulating in my brain. First, in no particular order, some factoids:*

Since 2008, more than half the world's population live in urban environments.
Most people no longer have to compete directly with predators and scavengers for their food.
Humans need a certain amount of stimulation and will actively seek it.
Fear and excitement produces adrenalin.
Many people watch television for stimulation.
Television encourages people to stay indoors.
In the past, most real insect encounters occurred outside
These days, most real insect encounters occur inside the home.
For many people, television 'nature' programmes or movies are the main information source for ideas of 'nature'.
Many 'nature' programmes sensationalize insects.
More people than in the past are exhibiting signs of insect phobias.

Putting all these together I come up with my theory:

That the real life connections and encounters between humans and insects is decreasing and being replaced by sensationalist, adrenalin-driven exaggerations and simplifications portrayed in many television nature programmes. This will result in increasing incidence of disconnections, gross discrepancies, myths, phobias, and generally foolish misunderstandings and silly stories about insects and other little critters. This is in an age where the biological knowledge-base of this group of animals has never been larger and is growing all the time. The reality is actually much, much more marvelous! But more complex and subtle.

So, if it has been a while since you've had a real insect-human encounter, may I politely suggest you go outside soon...and leisurely watch. Ants. Or something. Maybe take a kid along too?

* May or may not be true.


  1. Living as I do in a very rural environment both in the Outer Hebrides and New Zealand and living a fairly outside life, I spend a great deal of my time encountering insects of many varieties. Because insects are a wonderful subject my interest in macro photography increases my interest in insects. I have a fear of several insects: wasps and hornets being the principal ones. However when I am behind a camera they cannot see me and I have no fear at all.

    Your thesis is one with which I broadly concur (why didn't I just write 'I agree with your theory'?). However I also wonder if many people who might otherwise have had a dislike of insects will have a fascination having been educated by the myriad of nature programmes brilliantly produced for the screen.

    Oh what a huge subject. So much to say so little space.

  2. I took your advice and found myself surrounded by masses of scavenging, buzzing insects. It was scary and then I saw an enormous crowd of giant mutated woodlice approaching from Professor Herman Fritzel's lab at the university. I ran inside. They are all taller than me. There's hundreds of them.I can hear them scrabbling on the roof. There's one at the window. It's pushing to get in! Aaaaargggh!

  3. I take aspirin daily for my old heart condition. Nothing coagulates in my brain....

  4. Geeb. Splendid re: your own most exemplary life. Regarding the fact that some excellent nature programmes will indubitably have inspired great fascination in the otherwise fearful, I carefully excluded these. In all the best arguments, it's important to leave out anything that may contradict the conclusion.

    YP. What on Earth are you on? Have you tried Methadone?

    Robert. I have a brain condition... nothing helps.