Before you read this, I need you to understand: I want you to help the people in Haiti. They’ve got so little, and we have so much capacity – as a culture – to do something wonderous about this situation following the earthquake. What follows is about the frustration I feel, hearing a few hundred times a day, that people across the sea need help, and how powerless it makes me feel, because there is nothing I can do, except this.
That said, let me tell you a bit about where the internet, technology, and especially socialized media – not exclusively social media as a concept – has totally fallen down for me in the last few days.
I have trouble grokking the trouble in Haiti. It’s just too big. There’s a gap between what we can assimilate easily and what happens around the world – clearly, humans haven’t evolved through mass media yet, and now we’re doing the hyperlocal thing? I can barely handle my own local stress.
You want to know what local stress is? It’s seeing kids on welfare walk into the store with stubs saying the government paid them this week alone twice what I make in a month, just for breathing and taking up space.
I know. It sounds harsh. I’m well aware that the vast majority of those in the government aid system are in terrible shape – disability payments are small, pension funds are a joke, psychological aid has been a total farce for years. Does this help me? No, sadly. It makes me angrier – not at the system, at these idiots, flaunting their money – no, not their money, my money, your money. YOUR money. Your MONEY. Buying cell phones and terrible looking clothes, beer, drugs, televisions, laptops. With. Our. Money.
It feels like theft. And you’re asking me to take the wide-angle view?
Lots of people have it worse off than I do. I have a roof over my head, food most days, a steady job and a family nearby who support me. It’s more than a lot of people can say. But still, the very idea that bankers are whining because the US government might (just might) split up their ivory towers into manageable ivory apartment buildings, and reading comments from business owners about coffee shop workers being the ones to blame for getting advanced on by people in authority over them – the concept falls outside of my realm of giving-a-shit. It’s too far away – I can’t make a connection with rich people getting richer at a slightly slower pace, or with teenagers making poor decisions and having their parents back them up, no matter how close the subject material might be to situations around me.
Mass media is all about broad connections. Making links between these people and those, this locale and yours, their situation of desperation and your moderate behaviour of hope and wonder. It’s about involving people in the lives of their counterparts, entirely on the basis of “There, But For the Grace of God Go I” – and it’s a crock.
Have you been paying attention to what gets reported, and how it’s changed over the last few decades? Crime is always up. Does this mean people are actually behaving worse, or could it be that more crime is being reported – even though the same amount of instances is going on? Similar to weather forecasting and climatic event modelling. There aren’t more volcanoes blowing up, we’re just hearing more often about the ones that do. We have no power to change these statistics, they can’t be manipulated beyond their recording.
So are these systems being abused more often lately? Are there more savvy teenagers declaring for welfare and living lives of opulent indolence while idiots like me work our asses off for a third of the money? I sincerely doubt it. But it sure is frustrating to notice this stuff more readily.
And if we’re more readily noticing everything – if the volume of instances of dis-ease we’re exposed to is rising so quickly, how are we supposed to accurately encompass the magnitude of an event like the earthquake in Haiti? How heavily on our hearts are images of hundreds of dead supposed to weigh, when not yet ten years ago, many of us spent hours glued to the television watching dozens of people hurl themselves out of the World Trade Centre as it fell apart around them – watching death and pure, mortal terror unfold live on network television?
Who am I supposed to be affected by more – someone I don’t know down the street getting screwed by the government, or myself getting screwed by those screwing the government?
What am I supposed to do about Haiti, when on a monthly basis I have to spend hours arranging my shopping days around bills, rent, groceries, and fussing over the odd half hour I get to myself without interference from the rest of the world?
Better yet. You’re living with all the same stresses I am, given the state of information media. How do YOU do it?
Photo by jurvetson.