When Digital and Social Media Combine With Crisis

Moderation. Even with the best intentions, the decisions we make each day about what to do and how to live become more complex as our digital lives expand. Yet making choices about when and how long to stay connected could not be more important for us, and during times when a tragedy grips the country or the world, our connection choices become even more important.

moderationNow I spend a considerable time on my blogs and at my job encouraging parents, kids, and teachers to embrace digital life while also choosing to pursue plenty of offline activities. Making choices about what to do and not to do is especially critical when children live in the house, but all of us should pay attention to the length of time we spend in the digital world.

Choosing does not necessarily mean avoiding long periods of connected time if we are learning or accomplishing something significant (and yes, a game can count). Good choices, however, keep us from wasting time and from missing valuable face-to-face interactions.

I am usually pretty good at moderating my time online — at least I was until the bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon. After that tragic event, and for the ensuing six days I’ve not been able to disconnect myself for very long. My husband is a lifelong runner who loves the Marathon, though he’s never run it, but two friend were in this race, so we immediately tried to find more information about them. Moreover, my daughter works at one of the teaching hospitals in Boston.

Digital Mod

So all week-long I could not disconnect from the digital coverage. I checked three newspapers (Washington Post, New York Times, Boston.com) several times a day, added a slew of new Twitter feeds (#BostonMarathon #Marathon #CambridgePolice @Boston_Police, #Boston), and used Public Radio apps on my phone and iPad to listen to Boston radio programs, especially WBUR. (Note: One of my middle school students, a confident 21st Century learner, asked me why I wasn’t using the Public Radio app to listen everywhere I went.) Every day this week I’ve made a final iPhone news check just before going to bed and grabbed my mobile again as soon as I have awakened. I even listened during exercise.

On Friday, with Boston at a standstill and even after a reassuring call from my daughter and her husband, I was still compelled to engage, never turning off WBUR. Depending on where I was, I listened on an iPhone, iPad, or regular radio. And as the police and FBI closed in on the suspect on Friday night, I finally watched on television, like just about everyone else, the moment-by-moment coverage of the capture. Information was so easy to find and so easy to consume that I only turned to television images at the end of the dramatic week. Otherwise I depended on digital resources.

Here’s a comment by New Yorker writer, Adam Gopnick from his article, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Lost and Found, juxtaposing the role of television with access via digital devices.

I followed my own generational instincts, honed on Vietnam and Watergate and the Gulf War, and turned on the television to see the usual stern-jawed “terrorism experts” being stern, scary, and obviously not knowing what the hell they were talking about. Within an hour, with the help of my eighteen-year-old, who insisted on turning from television toward the Web, we had the Tsarnaev brothers’ names, school history, wrestling involvement, vKontakte (Russian Facebook) pages, YouTube videos, and boxing photos.

You might enjoy reading this book -- a conversation about balancing our digital and non-digital life.

You might enjoy reading this book — a conversation about balancing our digital and non-digital lives

Saturday morning, when I woke up and reached for my iPhone, I thought for a moment that maybe, I should look at something else, or even get up, stretch, and get dressed before starting the digital part of my day. So for the first 20 minutes, I avoided my phone and listened to the classical music radio station.

Then, a bit later, when I finally indulged and checked my e-mail, Is Our Addiction To Tragedy On Social Media Inspiring Violence?, a TechCrunch blog post was just about the first thing that popped up. And it made me wonder. If a bad person who is set upon creating havoc, wants an audience, are we providing a ready-made one? The TechCrunch quotes Max Abrams,Ph.D., a terrorism and counterterrorism research fellow at Johns Hopkins University. This thought-provoking comment by Dr. Abrams caught my attention:

One of the main goals of terrorists is to get attention. By it’s very definition, terrorism requires an audience …

During a crisis our reasons for staying connected multiply and remain for good reason, but how do we ensure that we are not becoming theater goers, taking in and reviewing a show, as well as sending a message to some very sick people that we will remain engaged and watch as long as the show continues?

Now that we are all so connected, is digital moderation even possible during a crisis?

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