You probably won’t read this entire piece. You might skim a paragraph or two — you’ll read the headline and smirk at the comic, but will you read this word for word, from start to finish? Probably not.
There’s an old newsroom adage that says, “If it bleeds, it leads.” And quite frankly, this doesn’t bleed. It won’t catch and hold your attention like a photo depicting destruction or a story outlining the chaos of tragedy, so your eyes will only spare it a moment’s glance.
We live in an era of immediate information. We learn about events across the globe as they happen, and we’ve grown to expect instantaneous updates, complete with photos and quotes from witnesses, even when the events occur half a world away.
We’ve found a way to use media to make the world small again, to connect all sides of the globe, but this constant deluge of facts in the form of stories, broadcasts and photos has made it easy for us to grow numb to the tragedies that cross our screens.
We see photos of bombed cities, broken bodies and bloodied faces every day. Television news stations send reporters and cameras into war zones, into the aftermath of shootings and earthquakes and bombings. Tragic images are displayed on front pages and “Up Next” briefs of news broadcasts.
Catastrophe has become matter-of-fact in the media, and as we increase media coverage across the globe, we need to remember that the images we see on our screens are real tragedies that have drastic effects on real people.
As a society, we need to refresh how we view tragedy, because becoming numb to the horrors that fill the news only perpetuates the problem. We need to stay appalled, stay horrified, so that we will continue to hunger for change.
We live in a fast-paced, immediacy-centric society. According to Statistic Brain, the average attention span in 2015 was 8.25 seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000. The same website reported that, in a study of almost 60,000 internet page views, 17 percent of people viewed webpages for less than four seconds and only read an average of 28 percent of the words on an average webpage (a page with approximately 600 words.) On web pages with approximately 100 words, consumers typically read only 49 percent of the content.
Our attention spans are shrinking. We spend decreasing amounts of time reading webpages and stories, and advertisers are having to go to greater lengths to catch and hold our attention for any significant period of time.
It makes sense that we have, in turn, become increasingly numb to tragic and graphic images displayed on news sites: They affect us for only a moment before we move on to the next story, the next photo, the next tragedy.
In a society that enables us to jump from topic to topic with ease, to consume streams of information with just the click of a button or the swipe of a finger, we need to remind ourselves of what really matters. The events portrayed in the media are real, and they have real consequences.
The catastrophes depicted in photos and news stories there actually affect people, leaving families hurting and cities in ruins. We’ve let our constant consumption of media numb us to the images we see, allowing us to separate ourselves from the chaos, the destruction, but that distance is making us comfortable with tragedy.
We need to look at images of destruction and death through fresh eyes. We need to pause a moment and let ourselves be affected, because the moment we get too used to death is the moment we stop striving for change.