What is social media doing to us?

20 Jul

In the fairly immediate wake of this unbelievably tragic Aurora, CO shooting at a movie theatre, in which 12 people (confirmed) now lay dead and 50 more are injured and/or fighting for their lives, I find myself thinking about the world we live in, and the exposure we have into tragedies and events and people’s lives that we never would have access to otherwise.

You often find people — both facetiously and honestly — calling on memories of times past when things were “simpler.” We’ve all gotten those emails, talking about when kids were allowed to play outdoors with no supervision as long as they were “home before dark.” Stories of a different time when we didn’t have to worry about kidnappers or crazy people – when life was simpler.

I don’t really agree with those sentiments. I think tragic incidents and shootings and kidnappings always happened… the difference was, if it didn’t happen in your local neighborhood or region, you wouldn’t have known about it. Because news was not set up like that. Media was different. People just weren’t exposed to the stories. You had your 6:00 news, and that was that.

Today, we are tapped in to tragedies around the world the second they happen. We immediately get news “from the ground” through Twitter. We feel a connection and a sense of loss. We experience emotions and recounts and replays right along with those who are physically there, going through the actual tsunami, war, plane crash, or shooting in a movie theater.

This morning I woke up and my husband was on his phone, on Twitter; he immediately shared with me the news of the Colorado shooting. Apparently, one of his Twitter followers, Jessica Redfield, a young aspiring sports writer, was one of the victims killed. Immediately I felt a connection to this person, despite the fact that she was one of 3,100 followers of his, and they had never met; there was some connection — the “six degrees of separation” playing field had been narrowed. He shared with me her final, haunting tweets; she was publicly trying to convince a friend to join her for the midnight premiere. He then shared a recent blog post she had written — about her experience of having narrowly escaped the Toronto Eaton Center shooting in June. Un-F-ing-believable.

So as I sit here thinking about this Jessica girl, and feeling some personal sense of loss which I have no business feeling, I wonder: what is social media doing to us? Are we programmed for this kind of exposure? Is it fair to the families and loved ones of victims the world over to have perfect strangers waxing nostalgic and sharing digital imprints of peoples’ lives in this stream-of-conscious medium, alongside people talking about what they ate for breakfast, and cracking jokes about celebrities?

On the one hand, I wonder if maybe it is making us more sympathetic and selfless. On the other hand, I feel a sense of unease, that we are just too tapped in and connected, and it’s going to make us a nation that lives in fear. Fear that our kids will be abducted. Fear that we’ll be victims of a senseless crime. Fear that we’ll eat contaminated meat. Fear that we’ll be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And I worry for my son, and for his generation. What kind of media monster are we creating?

My thoughts are with the families of the Colorado victims today. These people died in a senseless act of violence, and I can’t even imagine what their families are feeling right now.

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2 Responses to “What is social media doing to us?”

  1. Rob July 22, 2012 at 5:46 pm #

    Curious why you would say that the victim was (is) one of your husband’s Twitter followers. That does not seem to be the case. Mistake?

    • ogradysarah July 23, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

      Hi Rob, thanks for reading! I said that she was one of my hubby’s Twitter followers because she was; they were both sports writers and had interacted on Twitter before. Whether or not she had “unfollowed” him at some point? I suppose it’s possible. Why do you ask?

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