World's Fair

Antarctica: Links and Lack of Links

Internet Links and Social Links at McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

Here are some links of interest related to Trish Suchy and my NSF Antarctic Artists and Writers Project:

Trish Suchy’s blog about our Artist’s and Writer’s project.

David Ainley’s website about his research on Adelie penguins: Penguin Science

The weather in McMurdo is here.

Zach Sudman’s blog (who we photographed in the Dry Valleys):

And here is the blog of Shaun O’Boyle, one of the Artists & Writers who was in McMurdo immediately before we were. He was/is doing a beautiful black and white photography project on McMurdo.

One of the unusual aspects of McMurdo social interaction is the apparent significant lack of linkage to the outside world. Everyone talks about what’s going on here, but rarely do you hear much about anything going on in the US or the outside world in general. Even on Superbowl Sunday, there were a few (and I mean a few) people who talked about the game – but far fewer than in the outside world (all day I heard only 3 unsolicited mentions of the Superbowl). Almost no one mentioned the Iowa Caucus. People rarely talk about their family or friends in the outside world. The feeling is similar to what I might imagine living in a space outpost might be like, at least as such is often portrayed in SciFi. What matters is here. It’s not that the outside world doesn’t matter, it’s just so far away and there is little anyone can do about it here. It’s a perfect place to escape the outside world and really feel like you are living in a remote and isolated colony. On some days I feel like we could be in a Buddhist monastery that happens to do science.

This apparent focus on the here and now probably is also somehow related to the extraordinarily high level of friendliness and cooperation here – a feeling of insularity and the interdependence and self-reliance needed to keep things working. If you have a problem, you need to rely on someone here and near, someone you eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner with in the same large room every day. The important links, needed to just get your work done and at times possibly live-saving, are internal not external.  Perhaps this somehow conditions the brain to focus more energy on those internal links and to allow the external links to drift into the background. Although others here, including Trish, have also noted both the extreme friendliness and the lack of outside world discussions here, it is definitely possible that these “observations” are partly peculiarities of our own perceptions or the particular subsection of the town population that we hang out with. Certainly the friendly, “let me help you” attitude is an amazingly positive aspect of McMurdo – without which it would be difficult to get your work started or finished here. The apparent lowered outside world consciousness is neither good nor bad. It just is.

PS:  Just an interesting update: one of the few “outside world” conversations I had was just after I posted this entry: someone saw my LSU shirt and asked me if I had heard about LIGO’s announcement documenting gravitational waves.  Since Joe Giaime (who is the Observatory Head of LIGO Livingston) and his wife Lisa (who is high up in LSU IT) are friends of ours I had already heard about it, but it is quite interesting that this is the type of “outside world” news that breaks through here.