On the Consumption of Current Events
Over the summer as I logged into the fourth dimensional reality that is Facebook, I noticed something I hadn’t before. As I watched my social network ride the wave from Harambe into the latest outrage about Brock Turner, I got to thinking about the point in Romeo and Juliet at which the impetuous Tybalt kills the clever and rye humored Mercutio in a duel at the height of a stifling heat wave. I began to wonder about the ways that this summer’s outrageous events functioned as a release for each of us to vent some of our own heat-induced neuroses.
Fast forward through the stream of allegedly apocalyptic events to Trump’s election. It seemed that everyone with two thumbs and a blaring screen before them cared to weigh in on what happened. Most of the people on my feed took one polarized stance or another in what a more astute observer in my network likened to a Hobbesian trap. No doubt, a climactic sense of bitterness and resentment arose online between Trump’s supporters and his opponents. Most displayed their perspectives in posts saturated in emotion and astonishment. It makes sense that people wanted to work through these sentiments, but the means through which we are choosing to do so deserve reflection.
Our response to events that are often sized to cataclysmic proportions becomes a kind of performance, which remains confined to the virtual sphere. With a simple share, like or comment, people can slay vitriol or shine righteous approval in response to whatever the latest of such instances. Our two cents become another layer in an increasingly complex online persona. In this way, we have grown so far removed from the events themselves that they have warped into gimmicks with photo filters to match.
It may seem at this point that I’m being a bit flippant in the way I’m approaching the news when it often inspires feelings that are genuine and warranted. Surely, the reportage and successive commentary inspire new insights and ideas that will move society in a better direction. Yet, I have to ask whether or not these grand displays of hysteria are moving us in any (worthwhile) direction at all. Our current culture of sharing information has impacts beyond the echo chamber effect that is so often cited as social media’s primary critique.
There is no denying that the Internet has helped to advance various organizational activities, and with them, entire social movements Though in many cases, while it’s cathartic to post about one’s moral outrage, it causes people to lose momentum by sustaining the illusion of action. In terms of the events listed above, many of the woeful posts I read on my social media accounts included calls for more earnest organization and demonstration. While people hit ‘Sad’ or contributed solemn comments, how many among them so far have actually taken to the streets?
If the information age isn’t exactly galvanizing us to action, what is it doing? Despite the fact that it provides us with unprecedented access to knowledge, when the Internet is not used conscientiously, it’s using you.
Being that modern news media and politics bear little distinction from entertainment — as is fully confirmed in the election of a former reality TV star — we can see the way that our collective liking and sharing feeds into what Theodor Adorno termed, the culture industry.
The editorial sector, for instance, is sustaining itself on hype in the form of likes, clicks, comments, and shares. As a member of this field, I have seen the way that analytics are oft becoming the end game. The stories that are posted are therefore designed to an increasing degree as something to be clicked on and consumed. The press is more powerful than ever, able to choose what gets normalized into public consciousness. No matter your political persuasion, we cannot let the media become such a ubiquitous part of our everyday lives while playing the role of ever-consuming, unconscious spectators.
When a headline makes you feel angry just by looking at it, fact-check or compare news sources before embarking on that emotional roller coaster. So often, people are sucked into an inflammatory void of buzzwords, tweets, and taglines where it’s easy to lose perspective. In the post-9/11 world nothing depicts this more vividly than in the way we approach terrorism. In the midst of our ongoing ‘war on terror,’ many would probably have a hard time believing in the data indicating that we are in the midst of a great national crime decline, which has been steadily ebbing downward for decades.
So that we don’t get lost in the vapid black hole of meme-based nihilism that occupies a large space in our collective web consciousness, it’s time we reclaim our efficacy for the sake of concrete change. It’s not enough to confine our reactions to the cyber realm.
No matter what you’re passionate about, be mindful of how much you create in comparison to the amount that you consume. From time to time, get off the computer, put the phone down, and assess the circumstances in your own community where you can certainly take steps toward making a positive difference.
Returning to the scene where Mercutio is killed by Tybalt, at the very least, when things are feeling heated, we ought not make the same mistake of destroying our inner wit and skeptic at the behest of vanity and belligerence. Doing so could mark an equally profound turning point for our society. It is imperative that we get a grip on this fact now because the incoming Trump administration will require us to be warier and more scrupulous than ever.