Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How social media changed my coping skills

** I wrote this way back in February (after the Newton Conn shooting), and I'm not sure why I never posted it. Well, my final sentence ended at keep*, so I suppose I never posted it because I didn't complete it. But anyway, here it is, finally polished off with a complete sentence at the end.** 

I have such a clear memory of the Oklahoma city bombing. Despite my mother's insistance, I could not take my eyes off the TV. Once she was a safe enough distance away, I turned the news back on and kept the volume low enough I figured she wouldn't know I was watching coverage again. She hollered from the kitchen "Lizzy!" and I hoped if I didn't answer she'd assume I was downstairs reading a book.

It didn't work, and soon she was reiterating how important it was for me not to watch TV that afternoon. She hugged me and told me she didn't want the image of young kids being pulled from the carnage stuck in my head. She promised we'd talk about the event later, after she could watch the news, and I could ask her all the questions I had. For now I was to go play outside and not think about it until then. OR, she may have just yelled at me to get out of the house and not come back until dinner time. Really, I can't remember which ... but either way I turned out alright.

The only time in my life I've ever really wanted to steal something was later that month, when I saw my Aunt June's copy of "Newsweek" displayed on her table. I wanted so badly to read everything I could about the event, surely I could just slip the magazine into my backpack and hide it under my clogging shoes. But the fear of my Aunt June's discipline sent me home with just those clogging shoes.

A year or so later we stopped by my Grandma Bassett's house before heading up north to visit my other Grandparents. I caught a glimpse of her TIME magazine and immediately wanted to read the cover story about Timothy McVeigh. I'll never forget that life-size head shot of the villain. I politely asked my Grandma if I could borrow the magazine as reading material for our long drive. She consented. As we packed up the car my dad asked why I had the magazine, and I told him I thought I'd start giving adult reads a try. I didn't dare let he and my mother know I was still fascinated with the Oklahoma City bombing. I remembered how important it seemed to my mother that I not focus too much of my young innocence on understanding horrible evils.

I didn't fully understand the article, as I didn't know much about McVeigh's motive or the history that led up to the events, but I limited the questions I asked my dad. I didn't want him to think I was going to end up traumatized. But truly, I felt no fear. I knew that McVeigh was locked up in a prison somewhere far from my family. And I knew he was going to die there.

I just wanted to understand the whole thing.

My reactions to the Columbine shooting, Sept 11 attacks, and the Virginia Tech massacre were all the same. I just wanted to soak up all the information I could.

We all cope with national tragedy in a different way.

Last Friday many mothers wanted to rush to schools and hug their kids. My knee jerk reaction was to get all the information I could. And then the reminder of the Aurora shooting settled in. I started to distance myself from any knowledge, from any understanding.

I dreaded logging onto facebook, where I was sure to find posts about how badly we need guns in Elementary schools (and yes, I did have several friends write posts about the need to pack heat and arm our schools). I dreaded hearing about how evil the shooter was (and yes, the first post I saw when I eventually logged on was "there is a special place in hell for Ryan").

Thanks to social media, I found myself wanting to know as little as possible about this event. I didn't want to cope, I just wanted to put the whole incident away and forget about it.

As we were getting the kids ready for bed I reminded myself that everyday 20 girls across Asia are sold into sex slavery. Everyday across Africa 20 boys are kidnapped and forced to fight guerilla wars. So what if 20 kids in America were shot at school today? Why didn't people care about the horrible things that happen to kids everyday across the globe?

Yup, that's how I decided to cope. Healthy, right?

As my nightly routine drew to a close and I checked NPR's front page, I was kindly reminded why I've always been drawn to news media. NPR's coverage of the event (unlike facebook's) wasn't filled with reactions of fear or hate. It didn't name Ryan as the murderer, it referred to his brother Adam as the suspected gunman. In our haste to hate someone for the horrible events unfolding an innocent young man was named a vicious murderer. On reliable news outlets, the actual vilain was properly referred to as the suspect.

Throughout the weekend I've continued to check NPR for updates. I found myself getting frustrated by how slowly new information came in. But then I had to remind myself that from NPR, I was getting accurate information. There were even times the updates would read something like this "ABC is reporting ... but staff at NPR have been unable to confirm that information with local police force. Sgt Vance will give a news briefing in 25 minutes."

I don't mean for this post to sound like an NPR plug, despite my strong dislike of FOX news, I'm fine with people watching/reading the media source of their choice. But I do wish everyone would take just a minute to think about the 24hour social media's impact on events like this.

In my anecdote about the Oklahoma City bombings, my understanding took shape over years of gathering information. We need to remind ourselves that coroners need time to figure out what happened at the crime scene. Family members of the accused need time to tell their story to law enforcement before we can all label the felon accordingly. Perhaps most importantly, the 24hour news media needs to stop turning names like Adam Lanza into celebrities.

The thing I often seek to understand the most is the "why?" Why did Adam Lanza do this? When I finally took time to ask that question, the answer came immediately. "Because he knew you would think about him." He knew everyone in America would tune into the news. They'd post about him all over facebook. He'd trend on twitter.

No one knows about Andrew Kehoe. He didn't have the glory of committing his heinous crime in a day and age where his name could be sitting in every front room across America. People have always done terrible things (really, look up Andrew Kehoe -- psychopath much more dangerous than Lanza), but these incidences are going to keep being more frequent so long as we keep* turning the villians into celebrities on our social media sites and 24 hour news networks. 


Scott and Claudia said...

Funny I don't remember the event at all, but I am certain I would have yelled: "Shut the t.v. off and get outside!" Good post. I agree with you on media. Now shut the t.v. off and get to bed! Mom

Anonymous said...

Interesting food for thought.

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