Last night I made a huge, huge mistake – and I don’t think there’s any way to fix it.
I’m currently using pay TV and the Internet to help distract me from the discomfort of recent surgery. Social media is playing its part too, and I’ve been catching up with many status updates from people seething over last weekend’s riots in Sydney. For various reasons I was oblivious to what happened in town but a newspaper article quickly had me up to speed.
I read the story with despair, but it was a despair that was very short-lived. I was simply not shocked – my brain instead telling me to move on, that there was nothing new here and that this civilly disobedient behaviour was normal.
As a global society we’ve come to expect that certain groups will voice their opinions in a violent fashion and, dare I say, I think we’ve become just a little bit blasé about both the number and viciousness of demonstrations.
We’re too busy trying to eke out an everyday existence and stay one step ahead of foreclosure to worry about what goes on behind mass-produced placards and hatred-driven crowds.
It’s as if the last few years of global financial uncertainty perched high on the back of global terrorist acts have somehow hardened us to everyday events. And by “terrorist acts” I mean not only those defined by Western governments but also those defined by the victims of the retaliatory military action.
The newspaper article took me to video footage of the riots and it is from here that my initial mistake became worse.
The video ended and I found myself being offered other videos to watch. One click led to another and before long I was watching footage from the 9/11 Twin Towers destruction, an event whose recent anniversary had also been all over the pages of Facebook.
The footage I’d seen on television in 2001 was still there but I was then taken deeper, each mouse-click taking me to yet another video seemingly escalating in intensity as it moved from long-distance to the up close and personal.
I was taken inside the buildings and shown the faces of the building’s occupants. Survivors coming out of the maelstrom, their terrified expressions juxtaposed starkly against the concerned looks of the professional firemen going in.
The horror of the carnage was shown in vivid colour, with a vivid soundtrack as accompaniment. The crackle of Police radios and officers shouting commands was intermingled with bewildered screams and loud, repetitive crashing sounds. Graphics told us what those sounds were. Outside people were falling to their deaths and the sound of their bodies impacting the ground could be heard above the melee.
But it didn’t end there.
For some inexplicable reason I then chose to move on from these unbelievable scenes to other videos taken during the Gulf war, and I found myself watching thermal images taken from infrared cameras mounted on Apache helicopters. Humans being eviscerated by projectiles ripping through their bodies in the dark of night, all to the accompaniment of the crews talking clinically to a command centre many miles away.
From there it was a simple click to watch footage of snipers at work in Syria and Iraq, each doling out their own form of rough justice with a single shot from a high-powered rifle. These guys took obvious pride in a job well done.
The list of death and destruction videos was seemingly endless as link after link led to yet more links, some with warnings about the graphic nature of the content but many without. My sojourn into this madness lasted for nearly an hour until finally I’d had enough.
And when it ended I felt numb, as though I’d lost something special.
I’d lost my humanity.
I was deeply affected not only by the content of these videos but the fact that people had actually taken the time to produce them. Someone had recorded these experiences, edited the scenes, added timed music and graphics and produced structured presentations to show the world.
It was surreal.
I came away from this wretched exercise feeling a deep sense of nothing.
I was empty.
It was as if everything I’d witnessed was just a sick, twisted video game, and even though I knew better I somehow felt that these mustn’t have been real people because if they were then surely I’d have stopped watching.
Perhaps if I didn’t think too much I could justify the experience because, after all, I wasn’t committing the acts – I was only an observer. These acts had already happened out there in the world and were therefore already beyond my control.
Maybe I could claim that I was temporarily mentally impaired – the result of medication and fatigue – but I’d be lying. Or maybe I could blame the inherent cataloguing nature of the Internet, where keywords link often completely unrelated items and lead us astray – but that would also be untrue.
I now find I’m wondering what it was I’d become for that short space of time.
We’ve built the technology and written the software, and taken ourselves from the once simple to the now incredibly complicated. We’ve taken machines that were originally envisaged as devices to simplify our lives and turned them into evil weapons that spread propaganda and hate and violence and intolerance.
We’ve become desensitised to the wretched things that take place day after day out there in the “real” world because they’ve become garbled and confused in a world that has lost all sense of reality.
It’s all been formatted to fit onto the same portable device we use to write letters to our friends and upload photographs of our kids. These images blink in and out of existence with such speed that we can’t keep up, and in the process we gloss over the seriously damaged side of life.
We’re impatient if a status update takes more than a few seconds to load. We want everything now, but we never actually stop to absorb anything. We click, we scan, we discard.
Nothing is real, and there’s no longer anything to shock us.
And in the process Mr. Facebook, Mr. Google and Mr. YouTube have become very rich people.
Even as I write I find I’m confused as to exactly why I am writing this.
What is it exactly that is making me feel this way? Am I angry over the way we’re using technology? Am I trying to say that the conspiracy theorists were right and that war and terror are supported by faceless men behind locked doors with the sole intention of creating and maintaining wealth?
Am I grasping for an explanation of why we do this to ourselves – why we continue to make people whose only reason for existence is to terminate that of someone else?
Am I looking for someone to tell me what it’s all about – what it is that we’re trying to achieve during our temporary existence on this endangered planet?
Or am I a part of it all?
I must be. I use technology to write words which I then store for all the world to see. My opinions out there alongside a billion others in one huge global diary. Disparate voices each trying to be heard above the rising static of living.
Our dispassionate use of technology that leaves us nowhere to hide and nothing to explain is never going to end. It is here to stay. The equipment will get quicker and smaller and faster and smarter despite what anyone says or thinks. Its use will become more intrusive and less responsible and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it.
A GoPro and a smart phone is all you need. Anything, anywhere, anytime.
Here, let me show you the head-shot again, but this time in super high-definition, slow-motion, digitally enhanced close-up. See his brains explode? Die motherfucker, die.
The damage has already been done – there’s so much imagery already out there.
I clicked a link.
It was a huge mistake.