|Photo by christiancarron2000@flickr|
|c.2010 University of Hawai'i at Manoa Click to animate.|
Oceanographic studies show us that miles of debris, the stuff that was once towns and people, will circumnavigate the Pacific, depositing samples along the U.S. coastline and Hawaii over the next few years before joining the monstrous, swirling mass of refuse in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch where the bits that don't sink or degrade will slowly spin for generations in what has become the world's largest cesspool.
When these dislocated vestiges of the people and places of Sendai finally join the swirling refuse of the GPGP, they will create a long-lasting, and humbling, maritime memorial to humankind's impotence in the face of the Earth's natural forces.
|Mt. Rainier, photo by.majorsteel25@Flickr|
Is technology's ability to bring us up-close-and-personal with human tragedy a boon to humanity that increases empathy and results in increased caring behavior? As the Haitian earthquake tragedy unfolded on our televisions and computers, cell-phone companies provided a quick and convenient way to donate to the American Red Cross via the cell phones we already had in our hands. The one-two punch of experiencing Haitians' suffering with our eyes and ears, and being able to help by literally lifting our fingers, resulted in a record-breaking level of cash donations.
|c. Nick UT/AP|
But how much can we take? It seems that we are sipping from a fire hose of human suffering these days, so we cannot blame anyone who is tempted to turn away and focus on the needs of their own tribe. However, we are (sometimes reluctantly) forced to admit that as the richness of media has improved over the last fifty years, our affinity with other humans seems to have increased... especially humans we only encounter through the lens of media. While it seems to us that people have less patience with each other they know, we had no trouble at all cheering the Poles as they grasped democracy. We saw their leader, Lech Walesa, as a courageous underdog as he heroically challenged communist leaders to create the Soviet bloc's first independent trade union. Images of useless death and the televised ramblings of clueless leadership stirred us to rally against a pointless and poorly-executed war in Indochina. We cried as we watched East and West Berliners tear down a wall between their countries. The suffering and joy we observed on television became our suffering and joy.
And yet... it seems to us that we are trading the richness of immediate relationships with those we can only experience through the compressed and filtered experiences that media is restricted to. It is as if the media, whether it be television, video-conferencing, email, or texting, relieves us of the pressure of communicating on all cylinders. Our Uncle Bob had a trick that comes to mind. When the conversation around was disagreeable to him, he stuck one finger to his ear and turned off his hearing aid. The on/off button on our devices can perform the same function... do we prefer relationships we can control in this way?
Certainly, ignorance provides opportunities for bliss and we have become accustomed to seeking bliss. However, islands of bliss in a sea of suffering can not survive forever. Perhaps we are better off experiencing as much of the full spectrum of the human experience as we can through face-to-face experiences when we can, and through technology-based media when we must. Knowing, and feeling, what is happening to those around us allows, and motivates, us to push the world in more humane directions.
Information can be a real bitch when it removes our excuses to get off of our collective asses and act. Rich information from immediate and intimate contact can be a bitch because there is no on/off switch for it. Aint it a bitch?