earth-shattering news events happen, life still carries on in some corners of
the world—and sometimes those corners happen to be smack-dab in the middle of
where these earth-shattering events are taking place. To see what I mean, take
a look at your Facebook news feed the next time something huge occurs.
I heard about the Boston
bombings about thirty seconds after they happened, because one of my Facebook
friends was standing on Boylston Street at the finish line of the marathon when
the first bomb exploded. Evidently, the first action he took was to whip out
his phone and post about the bombings. I was looking at the very top of my news
feed when his post appeared, so I likely was among the first people outside of
the immediate area to hear the news.
Once I’d seen this, I
immediately turned on CNN, which hadn’t yet broken into special report mode.
Their Boston coverage didn’t start until a minute or two after I started
watching. For the rest of the day, I kept CNN on in the background,
occasionally watching while I used a combination of Twitter and Facebook to
figure out what was actually going on. This is because I don’t trust Wolf
Blitzer, et al, to do this for me any longer—a feeling that would be validated
repeatedly over the next week.
By 4 PM EDT, it seemed as
though the entire world had heard about the Boston situation. Twitter was going
ballistic, and every network was deep into coverage, showing the same video
footage on a repeating loop and presenting various scenarios with regard to
what they assumed was happening. My day, at this point, was shot to hell, and I
wasn’t going to be doing anything other than following this story.
As evidenced by the way the
media has covered the bombings for the past week—and by the way we’ve been
riveted by everything to do with them—this was a massive story. And when
massive stories happen of the sort where you remember precisely where you were
and what you were doing when you first hear about them, we tend to assume that
the world stops for everyone else, too.
And it does, except on
My Facebook account is
private, in the sense that I don’t use it for business purposes. It doesn’t
have anything to do with my job, and there’s no connection to anything I’ve
ever done with writing. I have over 500 friends—a relatively small number for
someone who’s been using Facebook for over seven years—and I’m pretty sure I’ve
met every single one of them in person. With that many friends, however, my
news feed tends to get a bit jammed up at times, especially when my more
post-happy connections get on a roll. I don’t care enough to hide anyone’s
updates, so separating the wheat from the chaff occasionally becomes a bit
About two hours after the
bombings happened, I scrolled through my news feed to see if anyone had posted
anything of note. Strangely, at least 25 percent of the posts I saw had
absolutely nothing to do with the Boston story.
For every three “Thoughts
and prayers for Boston” posts, you’d see one or two CrossFit memes. For every
three news links, you’d see a post about the Knicks. For every three direct
updates from Boston—I have several friends who live there—you’d see a guy
complaining about his job, or posting a “LinkedIn’s Top Ten Networking Tips”
link, or putting up a picture of his new rims, his dog, his kids, or his latest
home improvement project.
I wondered if these people
knew. I assumed they didn’t, but if you’re posting this sort of material on
Facebook in the midst of what essentially amounts to a national emergency—at
the very least, it was the biggest news story of the year—can you not see what
everyone else is posting? If you didn’t see, and didn’t know, I can understand
blissfully going about your business, but what does it say about you if you did
I’m giving people the
benefit of the doubt here. Things can happen that you don’t hear about, and I’m
sure the thousands of people who posted Willy Wonka memes at 3:30 PM last
Monday feel ridiculous about it now. I know I would.
In fact, I’ve done something
similar. Last New Year’s Eve, one of my best friends, whose life was pretty
much decimated by Sandy, posted on Facebook about how he wished 2013 would be a
far better year than 2012. In his comments section, I made a point of saying
that 2012 was awesome for me, and that I was going to continue that momentum in
2013—conveniently forgetting that half the people reading, including my friend,
were likely still homeless from the storm.
So, I won’t judge. I suppose
there’s a lesson to be learned here—something akin to looking both ways before you
cross the street. The next time you’re about to post a SomeEcards meme, an
appeal to save pit bulls, or a “letter from Bill Cosby,” make sure we’re clear
of natural disasters, political assassinations, and declarations of war before