Zombie Apocalypse

Article excerpt

Byline: Tony Dokoupil

Could the Internet bring on a face-eating epidemic?

By some measures, the world has never seemed more civilized. Murders, rapes, and even barroom brawls are down. Then came springtime in America, and with it kitten-killing, brain-eating, entrails-throwing, blood-spitting, naked al fresco face-devouring crimes that made Memorial Day feel like end times. After this "zombie apocalypse," as it was quickly dubbed, the federal government moved to restore order, noting no outbreak of a virus with "zombielike symptoms" and banning "bath salts," an amphetamine-like drug cocktail that may have played a role in some of the crimes. But the question remains: what's with all the craziness?

Every incident, of course, is its own sad story. But what if the cases, together, mean something more? Last fall Oxford research fellow Susan Greenfield warned that ignoring the way digital experience rewires the brain--literally "blowing the mind"--may one day be akin to doubting global warming. And in a video essay on YouTube, the writer Will Self argued that our wired world is "inherently psychotic," a place where a single screen hosts both the real and virtual life, with just a mouse click between them. Does the Internet cause insanity? No. But for some vulnerable souls, it may excite their already destructive states of mind.

Consider two recent cases of zombielike depravity. Late last month, severed hands, feet, and a torso surfaced in three Canadian cities, along with a Web video of a young man eating pieces of his dismembered lover. The alleged killer, Luka Rocco Magnotta, was a social-media "whore," in the words of one criminal profiler, juggling several extreme online personas and reveling in the attention until he was arrested last week at an Internet cafe. …