There should be plenty of discussion of gun control following Saturday night’s murderous spree by a wealthy white social misfit in Santa Barbara.
The highly emotional comments by one victim’s distraught father provide ample opportunity for expansion on the subject, but I will leave that for others to do.
If past experience is any predictor, how this young man with a long history of mental illness managed to arm himself and conceal those weapons from a police welfare visit just weeks before the rampage will fuel both the arguments of gun control advocates and aggressive NRA counterpoints until the inevitable next incident resets the clock of inaction once again.
In this, as in several recent mass murder incidents, the perpetrator used social media as a platform from which to gather a crowd of virtual witnesses to his personal torment; or to leave behind a testimonial rationale for his crimes.
When murder isn’t even an issue, bullying and suicide have become all too frequent among the impersonal, yet invasively intimate behaviors springing from social media.
Hyper connection isn’t just about the cozy circles we see in Google commercials. It is equally about narcissism and extreme isolation.
Too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing at all.
The introduction of each new communication platform has been met with earlier and earlier adoption by a willing public, anxious never to be left behind. Our children play an especially important role in media marketing; and we have completely embraced the idea that, as a natural extension of valuable information technology, in order to “succeed,” they must have all communication media at their fingertips.
When my twenty-seven year old son was five years old, our family got its first computer. Even though it was second-hand and we were years behind Silicon Valley, we thought that, for Vermont, we were ahead of the curve, using “Mario Teaches Typing” to familiarize our kid with the keyboard.
When he was in second grade and we acquired the internet (for “research” purposes, only, of course) our son became the first member of our household to use e-mail.
Unlike most of his friends, Jesse didn’t have a TV in his room; nor did we have Nintendo in the house. The computer sat in a room that was shared by the whole family, as did the telephone.
We had the Atari/ Nintendo discussion every Christmas and always managed to find ways to avoid acquisition.
When Jesse was in middle school, first pagers, then cell phones began to appear in the pockets of twelve year olds. They made some sense for kids whose parents worked far from home, but we had a small home business and Jesse could always do his telephoning from the house.
The end of media control came for us when Jesse entered high school and was required to have a lap-top computer issued by the school so that he could submit homework on the school network. The laptop entered his bedroom and that was that.
He was fourteen by then and had spent a great deal of time socializing the old fashioned way, so he was ready to take charge of his own media exchanges.
“Facebook” was just a printed book with pictures of the kids he saw daily at school. Eventually, the online version became available to college kids; then to high-school kids; then to everyone.
Obviously this slow adoption would be virtually impossible now. I’ve seen parents at AT&T discussing “plans” for their pre-schooler; and even pets and inanimate objects have Twitter accounts!
This institutionalized navel-gazing may be fun or even informative for the vast majority of users; but if, for even a few troubled souls, it may be dangerously enabling, we have to ask ourselves some tough questions about
how much of our children’s social interactions we want to sacrifice on the altar of technical competitiveness.
It isn’t difficult to imagine a kid who is vulnerable to mental illness becoming so isolated by anonymous experiences on the internet, and the uncensored opportunity for personal power through social media, that he creates in his own mind a cosmos of which he is the center and the only person of consequence.
Is it any wonder that the random body count seems to be growing even as personal communication opportunities do the same?