For many generations canaries were used as an indicator of air quality in coal mines. When the canary stopped singing or died, the miners knew they had to return to the surface quickly. Since then, we use the expression “canary in the coal mine” to refer to a person or event that provides early warning of a disaster.
In today’s world we might speak of the “canary in the machine” rather than the canary in the coal mine, since the universe we inhabit, and the undetectable threats to life that come with it, are technological rather than natural.
People who are isolated, ignored or rejected are particularly suited to the role of “canaries in the machine” for, like mimosa pudica, the “sensitive plant”, they respond to the slightest pressure and withdraw into themselves when the touch of life is replaced by the shock of the machine.