I suspect that I am not alone in the blogosphere writing about the tragedy that took place yesterday in Newtown, Connecticut. I won’t rehash the details because, one, they’re already splashed all over the Internet and, two, I would rather use my blog today to discuss an angle of this tragedy (and others similarly violent) that I haven’t seen addressed.
Whenever a tragedy like this happens, people immediately want to figure out why. I honestly believe that there is no one single fundamental reason that can sufficiently explain why bad/evil/mentally ill people commit heinous crimes. I suspect there are ways to reduce these types of horrors (e.g. improve gun control laws and screen for mental health issues more rigorously, above all else), but those efforts will only curb the behavior, not the thoughts behind the actions.
Coincidentally, this week my Internet went offline. This is why I haven’t been able to post for a few days. Even today, my Internet access has been sketchy. Since I work from a home office, this is truly disabling for me. When our Internet first went down on Tuesday, my daughter asked what on earth we did as kids when I was growing up. How was it possible to live without this technology?
I thought for a bit, trying to remember what we did do, back in the day (that would be the 1970s-80s). We did have technology: we watched television, listened to the radio, took long drives in the countryside when we were old enough to drive. Sometimes we snuck beer and cigarettes out of our parents’ house and went out into an open field to drink and smoke. (I remember both the beer—Milwaukee’s Best, if I recall— and cigarettes as being pretty disgusting… to this day I don’t smoke and my taste in beer has improved dramatically.) We played Kick the Can until late at night. We went swimming. We hiked the railroad tracks. We rode our bikes for miles. On rainy days, we pulled out boardgames or made up treasure hunts. We told ghost stories.
There was a lot of face time back in the day. Kids could still be cruel. Serial killers could still murder. Terrorists could still attack us. But we spent a great deal of time connecting with each other. Now, it seems we spend a great deal of time connecting to an electronic device. Even within my family, I text my kids daily. I get on Facebook or write this blog and there is never a true connection to the people I’m reaching, even if they (you, my reader) bother to click “like” on a post or re-blog/re-tweet something I wrote.
We “date” online, we go through first job screenings online, we shop online, we work online. If we are frustrated, it’s usually with our computers freezing up rather than some asshole that we might occasion upon if we were forced out into the real world to engage in face-to-face interactions.
Which brings me to yesterday’s events. While no one will ever know for certain why this person (I refuse to add his name to the trending topics, thank you very much) did what he did, I do have to wonder if we aren’t all less empathetic. It certainly seemed so during the most recent Presidential election. When Occupy Wall Street was taking up much of Lower Manhattan last year, the vitriol towards those who were essentially jobless and homeless outside apartments where a one BR starts at $3,000/month was indicative of a society that not only has lost its sense of perspective but also a chunk of its humanity.
It seems to me the more time we spend interacting with a computer (or sitting alone in our cars, isolated from the thousands of others except when some form of road rage rears its ugly head), the less human we become.
And when you become less human—when you fail to empathize with those around you who are suffering or less fortunate or have a different opinion or a different religion—you are much more likely to commit heinous acts. Maybe not as heinous as the one that happened in Newtown, but inhumane nonetheless.