Terror, Death, and Fuzzy Kittens


I did it again. Once more, my first activity of the day, before coffee, shower, or even getting out of bed, was to fire up my phone and check in on all the activity that happened while I was sleeping. Perhaps you do the same. Yes, I’ve read the articles warning of the negative consequences of this habit, but like so many vices, I continually fail to heed the warnings.

Just the other day, I opened my eyes, turned on my phone, and checked in on my Facebook Newsfeed to find that a beloved actor had committed suicide, a renowned terrorist group was systematically killing people for their religious beliefs, and that there was a REALLY cute kitten in Wichita that is so cuddly and fuzzy and looks even cuter upside-down.

As I lay in my bed scrolling through status updates, it dawned on me just how much my information intake has changed in the past ten years. Where information used to be segmented, with local news from one source, national news from another, and personal contact from countless others, now all my news and personal updates are squeezed through the same machine.

The problem with this approach is that everything seems to get equal treatment. It used to be that when a friend’s parent died, you got a phone call, and that phone call caused you to turn off the evening news, put other conversations on hold, and focus all of your attention on your friend. That phone call screamed for attention. But now, that horrific news is sandwiched between an Upworthy video and a “Which Disney Character Are You?” quiz, barely peeking out from a 4 inch glowing screen. There is no longer any segmentation of information. We open the hose and get drenched in good, bad, and trivial.

Not only does this cause us difficulty in organizing and prioritizing responses, sometimes it goes even further, and incites us to say ridiculous things. Upon the recent news of the death of Robin Williams, many people felt the need to pipe up with comments along the lines of, “Why are we talking about a comedian hanging himself when ISIS is beheading children?” You see the problem with everything receiving equal treatment in our newsfeed is that we are naturally inclined to then compare these events, rather than truly tasting them individually.

People were, of course, talking about the death of Robin Williams because it was shocking and unexpected, and because he had spent so many years making us laugh. Talking about his suicide doesn’t diminish the other horrific events happening all around the world. We are not required, as it were, to place all life events on a giant scale, weighing one thing against all others. Life is not a teeter-totter, where the rise of one event requires the descent of another.

The truth is, there is more bad news in a day than any of us can really handle. The flattening of the world through the internet has made us more aware than ever of the previously untold events happening around the world. The ability to comment on EVERYTHING, even while we’re still processing it, has given us too great an opportunity to speak without thinking – to say stupid, insensitive things that otherwise might have never gotten past our very personal inner voice.

The friend who’s upset because his sports team lost, the national news story about a flooded town, the announcement of an exciting new coffee shop in town, and yes, the story about the fuzzy kitten – all of them have a certain value (though I’m not sure about those quizzes…or Candy Crush). If we will simply stop comparing everything to everything, perhaps we can enjoy the enjoyable, lament the lamentable, and take action on the actionable news that crowds our screens and informs our lives – to stop and smell each digital rose as we encounter it, to savor the essence of what we are reading, and to respond appropriately to those in our lives who have shared what is important to them in that moment.

Now, check out this fuzzy, upside-down kitten…