I must have a bit of Rain Man in me because sometimes I get fixated on words and phrases and start repeating them both in my head and aloud. This morning, I was thinking about how many times I’ve heard a variation of the following in public addresses and on social networks:
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the…”
“Our hearts are with the…”
I kept repeating these snippets to my daughter on the way to school — who laughed, but thought I was cynical. Maybe I am, but these phrases and gestures have grown to be empty, shopworn reactions in the aftermath of tragic events. Do the “Thoughts and prayers” go out to the families? I have no doubt that people do pray for those who are having a difficult time or have suffered a tragedy — and I’m sure they are sincere in their efforts. However, maybe it’s the blur of information that often washes over us that is making me cynical. For example, the attacks in Boston were shocking, tragic, and incredibly sad. I was watching a news stream from the BBC when I read about it via Twitter, and while the news anchors and reporters didn’t shed much light beyond the obvious (i.e., two bombs/explosives went off killing three and severely injuring hundreds), they didn’t report anything other than repeating what was known.
It used to be that if a tragic event did happen, radio and TV shows would be interrupted by a news flash, and then we’d go back to our “regularly scheduled program” at the conclusion of the report. Nowadays, you’ll see reports of tragedy interspersed among the minutiae of our social lives on Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter. People who do react to what has happened usually offer the (now) standard responses (see above). Or, if you are having a hard time and post it on your social network, you’ll get to bask in the glow of a virtual hug in the comment section. But just scroll up or down your feed and you’ll see that your personal hardship or societal tragedy is now on an even playing field with Someecards about how people hate their co-workers, desperately need a drink, or can’t wait for the weekend. Seeing these things side by side in a postmodern pastiche kind of denudes a horrible event that requires us to pause to comprehend and talk to one another about what happened. In a way, social networks offer that outlet, but looking at a news feed can feel like A.D.D. and very little of substance comes of it.
Perhaps this is the new “regularly scheduled program” and I’m just tired of what’s on TV.
NOTE: After I wrote this, I went to pick Maya up from school and NPR reported that in the aftermath of the bombings in Boston, people on Reddit have taken to amateur sleuthing; combing through photos of the blast, looking at images of people who were there, and trying to match them up to their online profiles. The hope is that they can aid the F.B.I. in locating the perpetrators through their efforts. Now Reddit isn’t like Facebook, G+ or Twitter. Reddit is more like the BBS of the old Internet where people participated in discussions that had some substance.
Huh…perhaps my cynicism is waning.