In text messages, the range of expression is narrow: you can use caps lock, but you can’t scream; you can use emoticons, but you can’t touch. In place of the infinity of embodied experience, our technology reduces the world to binary code. Contrary to advertising rhetoric, the electronic era condemns us to an increasingly low-bandwidth existence.

Near the end of the Second World War, twice-decorated veteran Aleksandr Solzenhitsyn was arrested for sending a letter mentioning “the moustached one,” which the censors took to designate Stalin himself. Young Aleksandr was sent to the Soviet prison labor camps along with millions of dissidents, supposed conspirators, prisoners of war, and hapless civilians.

After Solzenhitsyn and his fellow inmates had spent several strenuous months in forced labor, a guard distributed registration cards in a belated effort to sort out who all these new prisoners were. One of the blanks on the form was marked “Trade or Profession.” Other inmates answered “tailor,” “barber,” or “cook” in hopes of obtaining a more advantageous position in the camps; but Solzenhitsyn, fed up altogether, scribbled in “nuclear physicist.” At this time, the top Soviet scientists were racing to discover the secret of the atomic bomb.

Solzenhitsyn didn’t give the survey another thought, but a year and a half later a Black Maria arrived just for him. It took him to a sharashka, a special scientific research facility run by Ministry of State Security. He had never studied nuclear physics.

We can imagine Solzenhitsyn on the laboratory bench the following morning, beginning his first day of work under the watchful eyes of elite guards. Concealing his dismay, he whispers to the inmate beside him, “Are you a nuclear physicist?”

“Shh—of course not,” hisses back his new colleague. “But don’t worry—these morons have no idea what’s going on.”

The superstition that if minor infractions are aggressively repressed, more serious crime will decrease. Nowadays, this is associated with Rudy Giuliani’s brutal tenure as mayor of New York City, during which the New York Police Department grew to be one of the largest standing armies in the world so as to crack down on graffiti and subway fare evasion; but the theory originally appeared in an article by James Wilson and George Kelling:

Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.

Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.

There you have it—it’s not poverty or homelessness that causes people to become squatters, arsonists, or larcenists, but unrepaired windows. Similarly, Western thinkers as prestigious as Aristotle once believed in spontaneous generation—that aphids arise from the dew that falls on plants, fleas from putrid matter, mice from dirty hay, and so on.

In an interesting twist, ever since the protests at the 1999 World Trade Organization summit in Seattle, anarchists appear to be operating on the same premise: if only a few windows can be broken, revolutionary struggle is bound to break out. In case of emergency, break glass.