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Sleep paralysis and the phone biz


By Scott Bradner


I happened to glance at the Harvard home page the other day and the top story caught my eye.  The headline was "alien abduction claims explained."  Strangely enough, the telcom industry sprang to mind when I read the article itself.


The article   ( described the research and upcoming book of Harvard researcher Susan Clancy who spent five years talking to people who claim they were abducted by beings from outer space. She found that many of these people told similar stories: "Victims wake up and find themselves paralyzed, unable to move or cry out for help. They see flashing lights and hear buzzing sounds. Electric sensations zing through their bodies, which may rise up in levitation. Aliens with wrap-around eyes, gray or green skin, lacking hair or noses, approach. The abductee's heart pounds violently. There's lots of probing in the alien ship. Instruments are inserted in their noses, navels, or other orifices. It's painful." 


Clancy, working with Harvard psychology professor Richard McNally, suggest that this type of abduction experience could be related to sleep paralysis, a common condition that prevents sleeping people from trashing about and hurting themselves while dreaming.  At some point in their lives about a quarter of us wake while still in a paralyzed state.  In some people this can lead to visual and auditory hallucinations.  Not everyone agrees that all, or even some, abduction experiences can be explained by sleep paralysis, Psychology Today has a good article on the topic (


Under Clancy's theory, someone can be peacefully sleeping away, dreaming of slowly meandering through green pastures or building elaborate sand castles beside tranquil seas, and wake up, unable to move, thinking that you are in the company of aliens who are probing your every orifice. 


That is a pretty accurate picture of traditional phone companies over the last few years.  They slept blissfully away, dreaming of their regulated-to-produce-green-balance-sheets monopolies, building castles (For example, and ignoring, for the most part, that Internet thing.  Then, one by one, they have begun to wake up only to find Internet-savvy alien-acting (at least to telephone folk) geeks and startups poking at them to find any opening that might be exploited, a painful process indeed. 


The majority of the telephone companies have been paralyzed, unable to do any creative thinking - the old phone net and services, maybe implemented in a slightly different way, is all the world needs.  They seem incapable of understanding the Internet phenomenon.  Many of them assume that the phenomenon is just the result of some confused customers that just do not understand that the Internet does not have the reliability and quality of the phone system and will abandon the Net for superior (if overpriced) services from the phone companies. 


The phone companies are crying that 'their' telecommunications networks have been abducted by freeloading aliens.  For example, Ed Whitacre Jr., SBC's chair and CEO, complained late last year that "companies like Vonage and Skype are laying on a voice application on broadband connections.  They're getting a free ride."  Humm, I thought the customer already paid for the line.


Some people can never accept that their alien abduction experience never actually happened, maybe in the case of the phone companies it actually is happening.


disclaimer: I did not ask the Harvard researchers if their sleep paralysis theories applied to Harvard or to phone companies so, I guess the above is my own theory.