Those are the words that Robert Bartholomew used to describe this past winter’s outbreak of mass hysteria in Danvers, Massachusetts, a town also known as “Old Salem” and “Salem Village.”
Bartholomew, a sociologist in New Zealand who has been studying cases of mass hysteria for more than 20 years, was referring to the Salem Witch Trials of 1692-1693, the most widely recognized episode of mass hysteria in history, which ultimately saw the hanging deaths of 20 women.
Fast-forward about 300 years to January 2013, when a bizarre case of mass hysteria again struck Danvers. About two dozen teenagers at the Essex Agricultural and Technical School began having “mysterious” hiccups and vocal tics.
“The Massachusetts State Health Department refuses to say publicly,” Bartholomew wrote in an email in late August, “but I have heard from some of the parents privately who say that the symptoms are still persisting.”
In the course of human development, the internet is still very new—barely a hiccup—and we're still learning about its impact on our bodies and minds. If mass hysteria becomes relatively common again, I wonder how public health officials will respond. You can't just shut down the internet. Go read the whole thing.