Posts Tagged ‘tragedy’

Ready Player One

April 30, 2014 Leave a comment

In this 2013 podcast, Douglas Rushkoff makes a poignant observation on how media companies curate content and present stories. He suggests that “comic relief” stories are presented to maintain a “cultural wave” of interest. He suggests that sad stories like natural disasters or other mass casualty events create a need for lighter fare. Do we follow plane crash stories with the comments of racist farmer avoiding taxes? Might a secret recording of a racist NBA team owner satiate a public drained from foreign diplomacy or missing boats?

Rushkoff suggests there is a “cultural wave” of attention that must be contained. The visual suggested is a mass of moving water that the media stirs and quells to maintain power. Maintain the water’s height and our attention is kept piqued. Bore us and the water falls and the ocean wave is smooth as silk: peaceful yes, but a bored public is a public not interested in viewing. For the media company to maintain our attention we must be engaged: emotion is attention.

This seems to suggest our society can be unified by media. Do we unite in sharing the news? How do news stories function to create a sense of shared suffering and experience. Though only a select group of people directly experienced the Boston Marathon bombings, millions of others watched the video, considered media analysis and worked to track down suspects.

Rushkoff is a keen observer of the media and our relationship with it. He urges us to be “less consumers” and more educated users of technology. He argues that we must recognize the utility of technology and steer clear of hazardous uses. His sense of consumer use of technology is one in which the user acts as brainless cog in the machine. One wonders how these skills will be developed in future generations. As newer generations use technology their relationship with these plastic tools will be very different from generations of the past. Might we worry less in the future when less experienced users of technology are fewer?

No matter our experience, one’s list of essential skills for an educated citizen has to include digital literacy. In a world where technology plays a major role in daily life it is essential that each user understands a healthy way of using tech and the significant implications that arise with every keystroke. Though the media works to keep us interested, we are individuals with choices. To understand the system is to be an intelligent user. True power is the ability to both see the games at play and make a considered choice: Do I want to play their game or is something better out there?

Narrative Nets

March 11, 2014 Leave a comment

Given unknown circumstances there is often a need to create details. Observe an individual standing by the side of the road with a sign requesting help. What are the details of this person’s story? Why are we not in this sad position, asking the anonymous public for assistance. One might wonder why its this person and not himself in this position? What actions or factors of my existence have delivered me to a place where such humiliations are avoidable?

To fill in missing details strings both from curiosity and panic. Charged with the countless questions born from these observations, one must wonder both why it exists and what protects himself from this existence. We are fearful of such calamities and seek out reasons to justify our sense of security. How close are we to such a life? Are we so secure that begging for money by the side of the road is above us? Who am I to feel its tragic? Could I handle such a deed if my children were in need?

One calming source of answers is delusion. Create the details for the person: make a back story and justify the differences. Did the person commit a crime? Is it a scam that they are playing? Creating these lies is less about the individual observed and more about us as the observer. A certain sense of safety comes from thinking their plight comes from action. If they’ve done something wrong we can feel that by acting correctly and protecting ourselves we’ll never live their life. Of course these are just lies and we cannot know what protects us from the tragedy. From what source do our privileges stem? Mere resources that can disappear by whims. Nothing is for certain and the resources from which we build a life are profoundly vulnerable. Are we merely our paycheck? Does our life come less from who we are and more from what our income does allow? Are our dreams framed in income brackets? For many the difference between luxury and destitution are but weeks without a paycheck.

Rationalizing the Irrational

January 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Despite our desperation, there is never a simple answer to complex situations. We see in the fallout from this weekend’s tragedy in Tucson a splinter of stories seeking to explain the event. We read stories investigating the shooter’s background, his reading lists and interests and previous history from which interpretation and explanation can be culled and applied. We see stories tracing the events of that day, brief biographies of the victims and the motivations, goals and dreams of each of the lives snuffed out by that horrible deed.

From that one event we have a multitude of stories. Popular media outlets appear to be scrambling for the correct dynamic to take. Should the background of the shooter be the main focus or should the possibility of deeper political factors be explored? Self-censorship is still in play at this stage with most reporters refusing to actually mention the linking to Sarah Palin. I do not link PalinĀ  to the events in Tucson, nor do I link any extreme rhetoric or the tea party movement. At the core of this story is one individual’s actions.

For those beyond the direct implications of the tragedy, those whose family members were not directly affected, we are left with the task of understanding the event. As the story unfolds we gradually answer the essential questions of Who, What, Where, When, Why and How, progressing from the easiest questions of setting, time and actors and transitioning to the more difficult questions that require a greater depth of consideration. In these questions we consider the motivations of the shooter and may fall victim to judgments on the basis of conjecture or assumption.

We must avoid the mistake of distorting what we know of the shooter. We may know his background, his reading materials and a series of events in his history but none of these events can explain what occurred on that morning. This was an irrational act completed by an irrational person. The human psyche is a complicated device which under certain conditions, perhaps chemical, biological and/or psychological, can bloom to a level beyond all human understandings.

We need to avoid looking for connections to previous killers. We may never know the true motivation in this event; perhaps, there were none. What we know is this is a tragic event. The only response from this moment forward is to honor those who have been killed, preserve those who remain injured and strive to establish a system that avoids events like this in the future. Banning the tools used in this tragedy do nothing. The only real solution is a human solution and our network of social support services can prevent, protect and preserve our society and its citizens from a future act of horror.

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