Social media forgets tragedies too fast

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Matt Murphy

Tragedy always seems to strike when it is least expected, as it did the week before last in Orland.

For those who haven’t used the Internet recently, a tour bus carrying 48 Los Angeles area high school students to Humboldt State for a visit collided with a semi-trailer when it crossed an Interstate 5 center divider. Ten were confirmed dead.

Social media was quickly abuzz with news and reactions. I learned about it from my active Twitter feed.

Just as quickly as social media ate up and digested this story, its appetite seemed to be just as suddenly quenched.

In a different time, not only would we have probably learned about the bus crash Friday instead of Thursday, but we probably would have called our neighbors or friends in town to talk about it. We might have even gone next door to have a conversation face to face. Imagine that.

In the 21st century though, those things take too long. Our thoughts are expressed rapid-fire at 140 characters a minute. It is the impulse of this generation to take to social media to digest and broadcast as soon as a newsworthy event occurs.

It’s the way the Myspace generation deals with events like this. The faster they take to the Interwebs to try to make sense of accidents like this, the faster the most important and unique of human gifts, the ability to reflect, is lost.

I look no further than my various social feeds for evidence of reaction over reflection. As I write on the Monday after, the crash might as well have never happened.

I’m not an unemotional person. I shed a tear during “Field of Dreams” like any other good American. But aside from considering the possibility that my soon-to-be-college-bound sister could conceivably be on a tour like this one, I had no personal connection to this story and was unaffected.

That next Friday, my day went as it normally does. I didn’t send positive thoughts, or negative ones for that matter, toward those affected by the crash. I didn’t post anything online, aside from complaining about the Giants’ loss that night.

Does that make me a terrible person? Does it make me incredibly selfish because the only thing I tweeted about in the midst of this devastating accident was something as petty as baseball?

No, it doesn’t.

The same way that those that reacted online are not better for making their feelings public.

There’s value in taking time to internally digest when something like the Orland crash happens instead of impulsively going on social media. It may be a futile one, but it’s my hope that this generation is not too plugged in already to lose that facet of humanity.

Matt Murphy can be reached at [email protected] or @matthewcharlesz on Twitter.