Assessing Technological Immediacy’s Impact on Tragedy
By: Anthony Cekay
Last week on the podcast series I spoke with Owen Youngman, one of the people who pioneered online journalism. In our conversation, Owen and I spoke about how instant media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have forever changed the way information is disseminated to and processed by the masses. More so, that we, as consumers of information, now expect up-to-the-minute news about everything. We tune to Twitter to read what our friends are doing immediately; what the score of the game is immediately; what joke is funny immediately; and what major event is happening immediately. Our desire for immediate information has outpaced our need to amass and process information at an appropriate time.
You might even say we’ve lost the ability to “deal with it in the morning.” There is a lot to be said for compartmentalizing your time but today, it’s becoming harder and harder to do. There was a time when I could wake up on a Saturday night and think “did I pay that bill?” and then say “ah, there’s nothing I can do about it until Monday” and head right back to sleep. No more… now I have the capacity to address my concern immediately. Of course in addressing it I’ve also lost some sleep.
Saturday night I’m sitting on stage at the Flea Theater in New York City with Nathan Leigh and the Traveling Salesmen preparing to play a show when someone says “Clarence Clemons just died.”
I was floored. I was shocked. I’m still shocked. The Big Man inspired me to play the saxophone! Clarence Clemons was on my interview wish list! The man with the sound I’d grown up loving passed away. The whole night I was a shell. This was one of my idols and I never had the chance to meet him. Caught in a weird space between grief and exhaustion, I can barely remember playing that night. I do remember sitting in disbelief alone, in the foyer of the theater with my horn. Just sitting and thinking. Twitter just sucker-punched me.
The idea that we don’t tell children certain things for their own good seems like such a sweet notion. Protect them from the real world and they’ll be happy in their innocence. But to some extent, we each need that in our adult lives too.
As few as ten years ago, I’d have played that gig, come home, had a beer and gone to sleep. The next morning I’d have picked up the Sunday paper and would have learned about the Big Man’s passing. I’d have the entire day to process the tragedy. I’d call my friends and tell them. We’d all talk about what a loss it was and how he touched our lives.
To some extent, we no longer have that luxury. You can say it’s just a part of growing old, but I think it’s a part of growing technological. We’ve found a way to throw immediate spoilers into life. Thanks to instant technology I’m not just finding out who died on Lost, but who died in real life. Social media has become a real-time spoiler. I’m not willing to abandon it, but I think we may need to revise our relationship to it. People will always ruin movies for each other, spoil birthday surprises and even bring tragic news to their friends and loved ones, but now we can do that for literally anyone within eye shot.
There is too the idea that because we are all “connected” online, that we all care to hear each others’ news immediately. The simple act of turning off your phone on stage is no longer enough. At any given moment you could be in a room with at least one person with whom you’re connected through social media — or if you haven’t been connected yet, you will likely pull out your phones and connect shortly — and somehow that connection enables the real-time dissemination of knowledge.
Eventually this may draw us closer together as a body of people, but for the time being, I’m certainly still adjusting. I want to find out my hero passed from a friend — a person I know or a news outlet I trust — rather than from some disembodied voice shouting from the wings of a theater. But, I suppose we’ve passed that point as a society and now there are no more informational boundaries; no more limits on when, where and how information is passed among people. Speaking of which, did you hear about…
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