Tragedy and Social Media – Are we fooling ourselves?

When tragedy strikes I see social media take off. People send thoughts, and I always wonder who they’re hoping will see it? And I wonder, is posting to Twitter filling the slot once held by saying a prayer to God? Is this a new way of putting it out there, to the universe, as if 140 characters can somehow help? And I marvel at it, because my first impulse is to say nothing, to go blank, to not give the satisfaction to whatever person engineered the tragedy. I don’t want to add to their infamy, or inspire a copycat.

But today, as I watched my feed, it occurred to me that yes, people are asking for things to be made better, but it isn’t just crying out into the darkness and expecting no reply. They were commiserating, something people have always done. They’re saying, “Hey, this is terrible. We must stop this from ever happening again.” Because by acknowledging the tragedy, they aren’t alone, and maybe they can reach someone who really can do something. By adding to the noise, we might alert someone with the power to help.

So much in life seems superfluous, that it’s easy to miss what is significant. On a weekly basis, I wonder if I watch too much television, read too many books, write as escapism. And tragedies remind me that the world is a terrible place. I thought my children would grow up privileged, never knowing the terror of the cold war, but there are new terrors. Of course we want to escape! We all want a team like the Avengers to swoop in and save the day—and bring justice to the bad guys. Stories let us explore those dreams and concoct unlikely scenarios.

When we write on social media, “My thoughts are with Boston today,” it acknowledges that we wish we were there to help, and our hopes for the heroes who are out there, saving people. The medics, and firemen, policemen, and courageous bystanders who rise to the occasion stand in for us truer and stronger than any Avenger. Maybe they were inspired by a hero they read about and, in this moment of tragedy, became the ones we dreamed up in film, movies, and books.

And if we can stand together, to make a loud enough roar, then things like this won’t happen, and we’ll respond better, or faster, and make the world a little less terrible.

My thoughts are with Boston today.

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