Orlando, San Bernardino, Sandy Hook, Aurora, etc: The Tragedy of White Noise

Every time there is another mass shooting, an act of terrorism- I think back to the moments and days following September 11th, 2001.

I was working in a newsroom in Boston, and this was the biggest breaking news I had covered at that point in my career. Many long hours for many days. Drives to work began at 5am, drives home were at midnight or later. No planes in the sky. No stock market. Candles in every window I passed, and flags at half-staff. Quiet. Solemn.

I felt as if we were in reflective silence, all of us at once. And since the most recent tragedy in Orlando, I have been struggling to put my finger on what might be different, why it seemed as if all the reaction was becoming white noise to me.

Universal sharing. Social Media. Facebook, Twitter. This is what has changed since September 11th, 2001. In addition to a 24-hour news cycle and a plethora of experts who are ready and available at all times. We now have the opportunity to quickly change our profile pictures in solidarity, post our outrage, our views, our anger, our political rants and mental health pleas, our thoughts and prayers in real time. There is an immediacy to the tragedy and our reaction; response is swift and at times, forceful.

This is not a judgment of social media, or those that post there- I use these social platforms, and will share this blog via social media. It’s just an observation. I miss the days when you finally had a moment to connect with a friend, and could really have a conversation that began with “Are you alright?”

There is no silence anymore, no time to reflect, no time to think about what you write, who is reading it- and do they care. We un-friend people who don’t share the same views, unfollow those that voice a different opinion. We force feed our thoughts and are evolving into a culture that no longer is willing to embrace tragic events with empathy for the victims, first responders and their families.  We pause for mere moments to grieve, then we move on. We spend almost no time on the emotion of gratitude for what good there is in the world.

We no longer take the time to absorb the shock, and think deliberately about how to respond to our friends or the world, or how to treat each other humanely or with courtesy. I see us becoming caught up in a wave of intolerance; we are ready to do battle with what we perceive as ‘opposition’- and that is a very sad and scary path to walk down. I hope we haven’t closed our minds to the humanity, the value of having an honest conversation, and respect for others’ points of view.