Something Has Happened… Now Listen to Me!!
Here in Canada, the news of the week has been dominated by the tragic death of NDP leader Jack Layton. It’s been remarkable to see the outpouring of grief, the pages of commentary, the rapturous eulogizing, and, regrettably, the vicious politicizing that has come in the wake of Mr. Layton’s passing. National Post columnist Christie Blatchford’s ill-timed and rather insensitive article in Monday’s issue, and the stream of vitriolic commets that followed it, stand as a rather embarrassing indictment of our inability to behave and converse civilly and sensitively online, even in the face of death.
What we can do, apparently—what we in fact do—when it comes to the death of a well-known public figure, or any other momentous occasion, is go online. We “share” quotes or passages from Layton’s famous Letter to Canadians, we “like” what others have said, we tweet and Facebook and blog (!), and who knows what else, all as a way of… well, what? Do we rush online because the internet has made grieving together on an broad scale possible in unprecedented ways? Are we looking for support? Are we seeking meaning and understanding? Or, are we trying to stamp our own images across the events of our world, to favourably brand ourselves in a world where we so naturally and instinctively seek to identify ourselves with the right products, the right causes, the right people, places, and stories?
In the midst of the noisy din of social media and political sniping leading up to Layton’s state funeral in Ottawa tomorrow, it was refreshing to read Heather Cleland’s sober and sensible words on the Walrus Blog today. She, too, wonders about the perceived need to plaster our “I wuz here” all over the internet when significant things happen, and urges a bit of restraint:
We don’t need to grieve alone or be untouched by the passing of strangers (albeit well-known ones), but we do need to take it easy with the tools we have at our fingertips, whether we’re Christie Blatchford or not. Few people don’t care, few people aren’t touched by Jack’s unfortunate passing — although that’s implied by virtue of the death of a man who may not have earned the votes of every Canadian, but certainly earned our collective respect. Rather than blurting out regurgitations of what’s already been said and noted for the sake of publicly declaring that you’ve been affected, slow down and let it make sense over time.
Take it easy with our tools. Slow down. Let it make sense over time. Such wise words, for people who increasingly live, move, and have our being online—a people who increasingly have nothing to say but insist on saying it quickly and loudly.