It took less than 12 hours from the time the first shots were fired at the Orlando nightclub for Donald Trump to tweet the following:
“Is President Obama going to finally mention the words radical Islamic terrorism? If he doesn’t he should immediately resign in disgrace!”
There was a time when tragic events were immediately followed by public expressions of sympathy and thoughtful circumspection. That time, apparently, has passed.
Personally, I find it downright frightening that a Presidential candidate would so hastily respond to the largest mass shooting in American history with incendiary rhetoric and unsubstantiated finger-pointing.
As New Yorker editor David Remnick writes, “Since Trump has ascended, it’s been clear that his demagogic instincts could be tested precisely by the sort of tragedy suffered in Orlando. And, when faced with the path of modesty and the path of dark opportunism, he has chosen the latter. That’s what he is about. It’s who he is.”
While such behavior is typical Trump, it is also representative of society as a whole. That is, Trump’s tactless tweet amid an unspeakably horrendous event is just one more example of how we exist in the moment — in the most intense and spontaneous way possible — until the next moment comes along to replace it.
Indeed, Donald Trump — more than any other Presidential candidate — understands this new reality, and he has exploited it to his own advantage by following every public proclamation and confrontational tweet with yet another public proclamation and confrontational tweet. We barely have time to digest one before the next comes out.
This incessant cycle of unrestrained babble is mirrored on social media. Less than 24 hours after the Orlando shooting, my Facebook page was filled with heartfelt condolences, enraged rants, and loud-mouthed memes extolling a spectrum of views on gun control, Muslims, ISIS, the LGBT community, and Obama.
I have no problem with venting. It’s therapeutic to vent, and social media facilitates such venting. But there is more than just venting going on here. This is people believing they have all the answers about a complicated event well before the authorities have pieced together the details. This is our new speed-obsessed reality.
“The faster we go, the more fragmented and frenzied life becomes,” writes Mark C. Taylor in his book Speed Limits: Where Time Went and Why We Have So Little Left. “If life is time, then to lose time is to lose life. Speed has a cost, a high cost — sometimes it even kills. As acceleration accelerates, individuals, societies, economies, and even the earth that sustains us approach meltdown.”
Taylor explores how speed has affected virtually every aspect of our lives from shopping, food, and fashion to business, banking, and parenting. Ironically, in the quest to make life more efficient, people often surrender control to algorithms and data bases, thereby removing themselves from the process of thinking, engaging — and living.
Sherry Turkle picks up on this theme in her book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. In an Atlantic interview, she explains how the speed of smartphones and other digital devices has impaired interpersonal dialogue.
“It’s speed, and our degree of self-awareness about the downside of what our devices are doing to us,” says Turkle. “What we are experiencing is not an ideological reaction. We are seeing, with our children, in our romantic relationships, in our educational system, at work, that we are not paying attention to each other. We are not talking to each other with full attention.”
Sadly, we seem to prefer it that way now. Who needs to sit down and have an honest conversation about a controversial topic when we can immediately tweet about it, sit back, and observe the fallout — all without any direct damage to our psyches?
Moreover, anyone with a Twitter account or Facebook page can shoehorn the early stages of a significant news story into their personal “narratives” — no need for reflection or, heaven forbid, verified facts. I must tweet, and I must tweet NOW!
Between the time I write these words and you actually read them, Donald Trump will likely have posted an updated collection of belligerent tweets, some regarding the Orlando tragedy and others making brash political declarations. I only wish the rest of us — those whose egos don’t manipulate our actions — will have the patience to wait and learn more about this heart-rending story before rushing to judgment.
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
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