I learned to type on a manual typewriter. There’s wasn’t an exclamation point (!) on typewriters. In order to type that character, one had to type a period (.) then backspace, then type an apostrophe. Needless to say, as someone who typed at the breakneck speed of fifteen words a minute, I didn’t use all that many exclamation points!
That doesn’t mean that nothing !!! worthy happened in those days. It just meant that exclaiming took thought and effort.
In those days, the media worked in roughly the same way—exclamations and breaking stories took a while. Sure, the radio and TV media did break into programming with special reports, but someone living in Florida did not have an inkling about a shooting in California until the news broke, and responsible media outlets got some of the facts straight before breaking the news.
Today, three billion of the earth’s seven billion people have smartphones. And every one of those phones has an easily accessible exclamation point. And a camera. And access to social media.
This immediacy can do great social good—for example, exposing bad actors committing crimes they would otherwise get away with. The ACLU app for recording police misconduct, for example. Several groups have been able to use social media to widen the influence of Saul Alinsky-style community organizing, Black Lives Matter being the most successful so far.
The negative is that all those exclamation points and pictures and videos and unmediated reporting make danger feel immediate, tending to cause a fight or flight response. Fear.
This is something politicians can easily manipulate, as we see in the US presidential race.Social media makes using our reason very difficult. Yet it’s the only way to see what’s actually happening.
Yes, there have been 350 mass shootings in the US in the year 2015 as of December 3rd. That’s a lot. And every one is a tragedy. Yet, you have a one in twelve million chance of being killed in a mass shooting. One in twelve million. (Facts show that the percentage has been higher in the US in the past.) Your chance of being struck by lightening is one in twelve thousand. Which feels more dangerous? Which is more dangerous?
Yes, citizens of the US need to take action concerning gun violence. Sane, effective, reasoned action. That’s the call. Not fear. As entrepreneur Seth Godin puts it, “Worry is not preparation, and anxiety doesn’t make you better.” Fear is natural. But often useless.
Those old typewriters tapped out wars and mass killings and assassinations and assignations. All the slings and arrows that flesh is heir to. They merely did it a bit more slowly. Our brains weren’t ready for the telegraph. They certainly aren’t good at dealing with constant news and images. The world has always been going to hell in a hand basket. But, so far, we haven’t got there.