I suppose it’s a commentary on our times that I know by now how Twitter–without fail–reacts in the face of carnage-filled tragedy. The responses in the wake of the horrific events that took place at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday showed once again that the tweeters, invariably, come in three varieties:
–The Well-Wishers: These people express their shock and horror at the act that has taken place. They offer inspirational quotes, convey the fact they are going to hug their loved ones extra-hard tonight, and tend to end their tweets with the hashtag “PrayForX”, X being being the location of the latest blood-drenched debacle that has taken place.
–The Junior Reporters: Junior Reporters retweet the updates of news organizations covering the tragedy, often quoting the tweet without hitting the retweet button so you see the name of their account first and foremost. They tweet early and often, quickly abating when the incident is no longer fresh.
–The Never-Too-Soons: These are the online “comedians” who use any news event as a springboard to get their wit noticed. By whom exactly, no one knows. Be it Kobe Bryant’s injury or the shooting at Newtown, nothing is sacred to them when it comes to going for an immediate laugh.
Pop quiz: Who is the piece of garbage out of these three archetypical Twitter users? If you answered the Never-Too-Soons, you’re a dunce and I’m saddened your ancestors were too poor to afford tickets on the Titanic. All three of these people serve to either contribute nothing constructive whatsoever or cheapen the fabric of our society, depending on the power you wish to accord social media.
Tell me what the Well-Wisher’s vacant platitudes do to assuage the survivors of a tragedy. If they were truly affected by the events they claim to be so devastated by, they would take the time to send a card to a victim or leave a comment on a website that those harmed might actually read. Thank you for telling your 285 followers–none of whom were a part of whatever took place, I’ll assume–that you are disgusted by wanton death. You have shown us that you don’t possess the moral compass of a complete sociopath and let the world know that no event is so massive that it can’t be coped with in between shared photos of your lunch. To be blunt, unless you are a world leader or other person of gravitas, your words do not matter. So save them (said the unknown blogger without a hint of irony).
The Junior Reporter is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. What do their efforts truly serve to achieve? Are you going to look down at your mobile device and think to yourself, “Thank Christ my friend is retweeting everything that the same news networks I follow are tweeting. Otherwise, how in blazes would I use my Internet-capable smartphone to obtain any information whatsoever in this situation?” By regurgitating everything related to the tragic act they can, the JR makes themselves a part of the action in some small way. And if they can get some new followers out of that, fantastic: Come for the carnage, stay for my live tweeting of Dancing with the Stars.
Last are the Never-Too-Soons, whose agenda often lines up with that of the Junior Reporter (recognition and attention paid to them in a time of crisis). Normal reactions to their material can range from, well, “too soon” to “You are both unfunny and horribly insensitive.” Either way, if you hear that something grim on a grand scale has blighted the world and your first reaction is “Let’s whip up a few zingers…what rhymes with ‘head shot’?”, you might need to work on your empathy skills. (In the interest of full disclosure, this is what I tweeted after hearing about the tragedy in Boston. So I’m as horrible as anyone I’ve just thrown under the bus.)
I wrote this because I believe tweeting about Monday’s event cheapened it, whether you were one of the “good tweeters” or the bad ones. If you needed to tell the people in your life of your traumatization, why not tell them individually in a conversational capacity and, by doing so, forge a deeper human bond between the two of you?
So much is said of the Internet bringing the world together, yet ignored is its fracturing capacity to allow individuals to spend their lives creating more and more elaborate temples to their own perceived greatness. As we exchange face-to-face conversations with peers for a few sentences delivered anonymously to followers, is it any wonder that more people are losing the empathy that kept us from killing our fellow humans? For all of the Internet’s amazing capabilities, it has begun birthing some staggering new problems. Problems that won’t be solvable in 140 characters.