Boomer observes how Internet invades and amplifies events

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When we received this piece from Philadelphia’s Roz Warren, we thought she captured a change in society that our baby boomer generation has seen firsthand. Roz, who has written for The New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, and Huffington Post, made these observations first for Women’s Voices For Change, and now shares them with fellow boomers here at BoomerCafé. She calls her piece, When Bad Things Happen To Other People.

Years ago, I was involved in a family tragedy so startling and heartbreaking that it made the front page of not only my local newspaper, but “People” and “The National Enquirer.” But I’m not going to tell you anything about it. This means that you won’t be able to Google my worst day ever and read about it while sipping your morning coffee. In this baby boomer’s life, that’s the only way I can keep it private.

Roz Warren

Roz Warren

But you’ll probably want to try to find out anyway. I’m guessing that at least a few of the people reading this already are preparing to plug my name into a search engine, just to check.

I’ve never understood why people get a kick out of reading about the awful things that happen to others. All I know is that when I was younger, Schadenfreude was not a national pastime, but today it is alive and well on the internet, and somebody out there is making a mint off our collective morbid curiosity. I know this because of the teasers for tragic news stories that constantly turn up when I’m online.

Here are a few stories I didn’t read this month:

- Seven year old falls from chairlift to death.
- Mom does the unthinkable to her baby.
- Tragic end to search for coach’s son.
- Chainsaw attack caught on film.
- Police make grisly find in storage unit.

What makes a person today see a link like “Her young life was snuffed out” and think, “I’ve got to know more about that!“

parakeet

How much does a parakeet really know?

Don’t tell me you’re just keeping up with the news. This stuff isn’t news. These are, for the most part, private tragedies. What you’re doing is indulging in voyeurism, plain and simple. True, it’s only human nature. I’ve felt the lure of those links myself. Maybe I’d be clicking up a storm too, if I didn’t know what it actually feels like to be at the heart of one of those stories. I guess we’re hard-wired to pay attention when bad things happen to other people. But that doesn’t mean we have to.

Here some links I have clicked:

- Dog saves own life by phoning police.
- Fish get very romantic in tank.
- Thirteen year old saves bus full of kids.
- Lost Japanese parakeet tells police its home address.

I know — this isn’t news either. But, for a moment, these stories make the world seem a sweeter, brighter place. Thankfully, it’s also human nature to want to share the good things.

weird_newsIt’s a different world than the one we boomers grew up in. Back then, you got your news from the morning paper and you knew where you stood. If you subscribed, for instance, to The New York Times, you would never be confronted with a sensational tragedy-mongering headline. If you subscribed to the New York Post, you’d get nothing but.

These days, the “news“ comes at you, online, from all directions, the instant you log on. (Thankfully, The New York Times is still with us. But for how long?)

I know a woman who clicks on tragedy links so she can offer up a prayer for the people affected. I respect this. But for the rest of us, can we have a little common decency and give those links a pass? If enough people boycotted them, nobody would profit from them, and maybe they’d go away.

Will tragedy itself go away if we only read stories about teens who save lives and ignore stories about children plunging to their deaths? Of course not. But we could make a small and positive change in ourselves, encouraging our better nature instead of letting our Schadenfreude run wild.

Will that make this world a better place? Try it and see.

Read Roz Warren online.

2 Comments

  1. I have never understood the morbid fascination with the tragedies, grief and suffering of others that so many seem to have these days. Was it always like this? I may be wrong, but somehow I think not.
    Thank you for this post!

  2. Roz, I do not think people have changed that much but media has. Previously, in our smaller communities, tragedies would teach us something. Maybe we wouldn’t get such a wealth of personal detail but we would know the basics. For some it would just make us feel lucky it didn’t happen to us. For others, it would be a life lesson to be aware of how our own mistakes can be costly or that health and life are precious.

    Meda has found that people respond strongly to negative news, like an automatic and addictive response and play upon it. Media treatment of negative news as entertainment is just a cheap way for corporate media to control populations.

    What I find sadder than negative news as entertainment is how malleable people are, how their emotions and thoughts can be controlled by others.

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