Does anyone know what ever happened to AIDS? It was on all the sitcoms in the early 90s with victims claiming, “It’s ok to shake my hands”. Throughout this time it filled the centre of our social consciousness in the West and it became the “it” problem to have (See Reality Bites and Philadelphia). Today everyone is talking about cancer. My own mother emails me constantly about the latest thing that will give you cancer or what to eat to prevent it. It has taken over the mantle of most feared diagnosis in our culture. So what has changed? What does it say about the way we live our lives? Who decides when a disease is in fashion or not? AIDS challenged our attitudes to relationships, Cancer confronted us with our damaging consumer lifestyles with radiation from our toys and carcinogens from what we put into our bodies. These diseases captured our fears because these terrible afflictions are or were out of our control and worse, our lifestyles could have actually brought it on.
In a report from Time Magazine a new biological phenomenon is occurring in the shape of Autism. We think Rainman and quirky geniuses who have incredible brain power but lack basic social skills, but it is also a crippling condition. What they have found is that Austism is on the rise and there is actually a huge spectrum of severities within this condition. Mild cases come across as people who are highly intelligent but find social interactions awkward, sometimes dubbed the “Geek Syndrome“. This has gotten everyone speculating if they or someone they know has this condition. The big unknown is if our lifestyles, with attention-shrinking instant messaging, hours on the internet, isolation from community and obsessions with gadgets are attributing to this rise in cases. Maybe there is no epidemic, we just got too good at escaping reality.
Discovering these trends should not engender mass panic. Instead we could ask ourselves if we have a choice in the way we live our lives, or are we addicted to a lifestyle that is ultimately harmful? Who knows, there may be a string of Autism related tv shows and movies coming but how will it shape our understanding of ourselves? Just incase you were wondering, AIDS is still around, we just left it in the third world countries.