My old friend Mark drops in to comment just a few times a year, but always delivers his trademark optimism, fairness, and perception. When he talks, I learned early on in our relationship, attention should be paid.. His was one of several excellent comments on the horrific episode in Cocoa Beach, where five teens stood by watching a handicapped man drown, and seemed to enjoy the sight mightily as they recorded his death on their cell phones. In response to another commenter’s query, “Are “kids” that are so disconnected that they’d do something of that magnitude rehabilitatable?”, Mark leaped k took the discussion to a related topic that I had found myself thinking about a lot while I was trapped in a lobby and two airports yesterday with nothing to do but wait and silently curse. What are electronic devices and social media obsession doing to our social skills and ability to relate to the world? At what point to we start sounding the ethics alarms…or the societal survival alarms? [ I’m going to include the last part of Mark’s earlier comment on the story, because it is a helpful introduction to the rest.]
Here is Mark’s Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Observations On The Florida Teens And The Drowning Man:
…The natural human reaction to observe has been enhanced by our ability to record, and it now seems to be the first response in almost every situation – the more harrowing the better. I’m sure there is some personal thrill involved in being able to post the result, garnering comments and ego-gratifying oohs and aahs.
The situation in Florida is only the most horrible of them, right up there with the guy who posted pictures of himself with the corpse of his step-father, whom he had just murdered. Like everything else, this is a tiny part of a much bigger picture of who we are becoming as a culture. The 21st century ability to remain safely behind a screen while still feeling a full participant in life (Internet commenting a prime example) frees us of the necessary empathy (or simply humanity) to come from behind that screen to behave in ways that might be heroic or even civil. I have little difficulty seeing that behavior manifesting in children raised viewing life through a cell phone.
The much larger question – at least for me – remains “Am I my brother’s keeper?” It’s a nagging question, versions of which swirl in and around almost all the major political issues of our day and, now, into our personal dealings with one another. It is always there, but we come up with more and novel ways to avoid actually answering or acting on it. Clearly, it never occurred to these boys. Cain didn’t want to answer the question. And, I suspect, neither do we.
I carry two cell phones, absolute wonders of technology, which remain in my briefcase most of the time although I’ll take one of them with me to a picture-taking occasion. My friends grit their teeth at receiving responses to texts that are weeks old. My relationship with my cellphone(s) was cemented when I had the opportunity to whale watch off of Maui. I realized that I was so concerned about my precious iThing getting wet or falling into the water that I wasn’t watching the whales. I put the phone away and decided that watching the real world with both eyes was more interesting and that’s what I try to do. I hope sincerely that that attitude would ensure that I offer whatever aid I can in a dire situation rather than wondering what it will look like on Facebook later on.
Jack will tell you that I believe in the essential goodness of people and my capacity for the benefit of the doubt is probably well-developed past the point where it is good for me. Your 2.0 question begs that in a serious way, starting with the idea that in a once-removed way of living in and viewing the world (disconnected), these kids probably didn’t see that what they were doing was wrong which is a truly dreadful starting point. I can only hope that whatever innate kernel in us that speaks up for right and wrong does not shrink beyond our ability to hear it.
Figuring out what and how to deal with this particular incident is screaming for a larger look at a far larger sense of general disconnection. I walk the streets of Washington, DC, every day and rarely meet the eye of another person – both their external and internal lives are happening on a device held in front of them. I recently had to explain to a friend that photographing and posting an event to his other, far-away, friends was impacting his attention to me, and I didn’t care for it. Suffice it to say, he didn’t see it that way. That was a fellow 50-something.