We’ve been through a heavy-hearted week of shock, disbelief, anger, and fear. Most of us have probably been following a lot of bad news this week, be it on the atrocities of the Boston Marathon bombing and ensuing manhunt, the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas, or the defeat of an expanded background check amendment to the gun bill in the Senate.
And particularly with respect to the horrific and unbelievable events that have occurred in Boston over the last 5 days, like most of you, I’ve devoured any and all tidbits of news in any form I can get. Despite living thousands of miles away from Boston, I’ve been obsessing over my various News Feeds: Twitter, Facebook, online newspapers and magazines, and once in awhile, TV. (And since when did we start capitalizing “News Feeds?”)
And you know what? I feel sick. But even so, I still can’t stop myself from obsessively watching and following the live events unfold, like a rubber-necker driving past a grisly accident. While it has been comforting and even inspiring to hear about many heroic stories of all the courageous (and mostly anonymous) people who have been amazing helpers throughout the violent tragedy in Boston, I still can’t seem to shake the feeling of powerlessness and vulnerability.
Most of the week, I’ve felt like crawling into a dark hole with no Wi-Fi or mobile data coverage. The senseless violence without a clear why bothers me the most. Why would someone seek to do such grisly, harmful things to innocents? The reason is probably because the perpetrators are likely insane or mentally ill, which nullifies the why. They do it because they’re crazy. And in our country, it seems we are relatively powerless against violent crazy people who have easy access to weapons and homemade bombs, and who are bent on causing death and harm to innocent people.
But I have to admit that I’m also partially to blame for buying into the media cycle. I’m an avid consumer. Sometimes I forward stories on Facebook. Despite grisly images, my curiosity gets the better of me. I still want to know what happened and what’s going to happen next. Are they going to catch them? The media frenzy feeds on the breaking story and while news organizations are all out getting their pound of flesh, we the public greedily consume everything, forwarding and RT’ing stories and photos on Twitter and Facebook. Maybe those of us who are more tech-savvy go onto Twitter or Reddit to see if we can help. But with the story and events breaking so quickly, sometimes the proper time and care isn’t taken to confirm information and sources, and so it does more harm than good.
The last time I felt this way wasn’t that long ago. In fact it was almost exactly four months ago during the Newtown Sandy Hook tragedy where I found myself glued to my computer screen constantly checking the news and crying. And before that, it was in my very own neighborhood in Seattle where a gunman brutally massacred four people in a local café before escaping, killing a fifth victim, and then later himself after an all-day manhunt throughout the city. Just two months after our Seattle massacre the Aurora CO shooting occurred.
I’ve been thinking all week about the disturbing cycle of violence, and I still don’t have a good answer. I only know that the first thought I have when I walk into a crowded movie theater is to: 1) look for the neon green exit sign, and 2) to find a good place to duck to the floor just in case a crazy person with an automatic rifle decides to come in to kill and maim us during a movie.
After the Aurora shootings, I never go to see a movie on opening day anymore because it’s just too crowded and I don’t like large crowds anymore. I’m constantly thinking what could go wrong. Large sporting events kind of freak me out. Is there something wrong with me? I don’t think so. I just think that this is the new normal that is the reality of living in post-9/11 America. And so we go on.
Maybe I ought to stop reading the news so obsessively. I’ll end with a question and quote from this great article from the Guardian I saw last Friday. The author writes: “… [M]ost of us do not yet understand that news is to the mind what sugar is to the body.” He goes on to ask: “Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you have read in the last 12 months, name one that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business.”
It’s a question that I need to remember the next time another senseless tragedy occurs, and inevitably it will.
Here’s to a sugar-free weekend. Be safe and be kind. Be a helper. Happy Friday.
Do you think technology (in particular, computer games) is partially to blame for all the violence? Many young people indulge themselves in playing games/social networking in the virtual world while losing their ability to relate to real people in the real world?
Hi Jimmy, thanks for reading. I don’t think it’s video games or the ability to socialize persay, but untreated mental illness (I don’t know about the brothers who are suspects in the Boston bombings and shootings yet) + the ready access to guns. But honestly, if someone were to make a bomb out of a pressure cooker and take it to a crowded sporting event, there really isn’t much anyone can really do, which adds to the feeling of helplessness, I think.
But somehow, I can’t imagine any of these violent tragedies happening in Hong Kong, despite it being so much more populated and dense, right? Didn’t you just “feel safer” in Asia? I don’t know how to describe it.
I think it’s a uniquely American phenomenon, and most of it is related to our gun-culture and the prevalence of mental illness. I can’t find the exact article with the chart right now, but this is kind of what I’m getting towards:
It really is sugar for the brain. I think we feel some sense of responsibility to prove that we are educated and informed but usually that needs to be tempered with insight, compassion and a sense of what can I do to make things a little better where I am? You’ve really hit on some great thoughts here. Maybe we should focus on balancing every minute we spend consuming media with a minute doing something that doesn’t make things seem hopeless, that nourishes our souls and serves people around us.
I really like your idea of balancing our time between media consumption and actually doing something that feeds our souls and helps to serve people around us! A very practical and easy way to fight the feeling of helplessness vs. binging on news and becoming paranoid. Thank you for reading and commenting!
Yeah, I know that news and the media have a dual agenda (to sell click-throughs and increase traffic etc., and therefore are naturally inclined to be more sensationalist and gory) in addition to simply reporting (with accuracy) what’s going on. That said, I do appreciate long-form investigative journalism and editorials/op-eds, which are meant to make us think. Sometimes I think news is to me what following a favorite sporting team is to others. Is it of huge personal significance to me whether Team A beats Team B? Usually, no. Similarly with news, does it really authentically affect my day-to-day life? Usually, no… unless a siege is happening in my city or neighborhood (and it has, and so I do see the value of breaking news coverage and following orders.) But that’s usually the exception, rather than the rule.
Great post! Very thoughtful. I know exactly what you mean. Too many little meaningless news snacks, when really one great news program or one in-depth read through a good newspaper per week would probably do the trick. (As I type this I note that I have three news tabs open on my laptop… )
Totally the same with me. I’m totally addicted and need to manage all the news bites… esp w/the smartphone news apps at my fingertips and traveling via public transportation. I’m pretty sure I can go w/out TV news, but news websites are hard for me to give up. The whole fiasco last week on Twitter and CNN re: a “dark skinned male” suspect at the Boston marathon bombings really made me appreciate slower but more accurate reporting… But you’re totally right. A once-over through a good physical newspaper 1x/week is probably more than sufficient… Old school is sometimes a good thing.