Friday, March 18, 2011

A scarier world, or just more connected?

These are apocalyptic times. My youngest daughter and I were talking the other day about whether this nightmare series of international disasters is a harbinger of the end of days, or if it just feels that way now that everybody has a video camera.
She's 26, and asked me if the world felt like this -like it was coming apart at the seams -when I was her age. If it was, I wasn't aware of it.
Then again, there was no Internet pouring out a steady stream of horrifying images from around the world back then. Not many citizens had video capability, unlike today when almost anyone with a cellphone can capture catastrophes as they happen. Nor were there global platforms like YouTube, or the video appetites of 24hour TV news channels.
I'm as captivated by it as anyone, and grateful for the truths that unedited, amateur video can bring to the human conversation. Would Robert Dziekanski's death in the Vancouver airport even be public knowledge had it not been for the video footage of passerby Paul Pritchard?
But I do suspect that the sheer volume of on-the-spot video footage that now pours out after every global disaster, every terrible event, ramps up apocalypse anxiety.
My generation's apocalypse anxiety centred on the imminent threat of nuclear war. I remember listening in horror to news stories about how we were now one minute to midnight on some metaphorical nuclear-risk clock they were always talking about in those years, and feeling so powerless to do anything but worry.
The threat of nuclear war was a pretty intangible fear for a 20-something Courtenay girl, and that intangibility was probably part of what made it so frightening.
But there's nothing intangible about what's going on in Japan right now. It's all there, from whatever angle you'd care to look at it -tens of thousands of video minutes documenting everything about the terrible series of events hammering the people of Japan.
It's no use wondering whether all that video is a good or bad thing. It is what it is, for better or worse. There's no turning back from this global reality TV show we now all star in.
On the upside, we're moved more deeply by video imagery. It puts us more directly in the moment. It makes you feel a distant country's heartwrenching disaster much more personally, in ways that I'm sure must be very helpful in mobilizing an international response and raising funds for disaster relief.
But the horror is that much more personal, as well, now that video is the tool of the common people.
In days gone by, the chance was slim to none that a news crew would happen to be on hand at the very moment that a tsunami struck. Today, there are "news crews" anywhere there's a person with a cellphone -and there are five billion cellphones out there.
It certainly makes the world a more connected place. Unfortunately, it can also make it feel as if more and more really bad things are happening.
I read an interview the other day with a scientist who was trying to soothe the collective psyche by noting there's really nothing exceptional going on in the world right now. Earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, hurricanes, floods -they're just part of the way things work here on Earth.
I'll leave the experts to debate that. But whether this is end of days or just a bumpy patch, we've never before had such real-time, round-the-clock access to the intimate details of the world's natural disasters -to its wars, its uprisings, its suffering and triumphs. These days, you know it's all on video somewhere.
I don't know what it means. But it changes the experience. I feel for the young people, living in a time when there's simply no escaping the brutal truths of the world.
I hope they come out of it as better global citizens. At this stage, it's too soon to tell how the video age will actually shape us, or whether it will take us to new heights of empathy or merely chronic anxiety.
The truth hurts. And with cameras trained on virtually every misery of the world and footage online minutes later, there's just so much more of it to see.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love Canal in 1978, Mount St. Helens in 1980, Ronald Reagan in 1981, Chernobyl in 1986, fall of the Berlin wall (could have gone either way) in 1989.

Not sure when you passed your 26th year JP, but there have been some 'interesting' times.

While there are billions of cell phones shooting video, and innumerable ways to disseminate information - each of us is an independent investigative reporter with our own station - there is no audience... nobody is watching, and nobody cares.

Marshall McLuhan's "the medium is the message" might be interpreted to be that when everybody is a messenger, the message has no 'weight', no substance to carry it through the unconscious flotsam into our conscious, caring mind.

The corporate media still shapes the message. Corporations would prefer if we felt overwhelmed, and apathetic... just buy baby, BUY!