BY ESTHER J. CEPEDA, Washington Post Writers Group
CHICAGO -- Thank goodness the London Olympics have taken over our nation's mosquito-like attention span, because as of late last week, I had reached my limit for tolerating the manufactured drama surrounding the Aurora, Colo., shootings.
It's not that I had stopped thinking about the victims and their families or confronting the desecration of a previously thought sacred place where one could expect not to encounter such an outsized act of violence. I wasn't even through discussing the tragedy with my loved ones.
But as one of a declining breed that can still go through those natural steps of dealing with traumatic news without chronicling them publicly on my social media networks, I was fed up with the public exhibitions of "mourning" and oversensitivity that seem to be the new standard in our constantly connected, living-out-loud society.
It starts out innocently enough, with people from across the country who didn't have any real link to the victims making sure that, upon hearing of a death or tragedy, they join the sea of well-wishers posting platitude-filled messages punctuated with a "RIP" on their social media accounts.
It takes little time to progress from waves of people expressing shock, sadness and spiritual solidarity to those: (a) proclaiming their violent hatred of the alleged suspect or his methods, (b) posting a position statement on why their political party has the right solution to the issue, (c) making a request for some sort of supposedly meaningful action and (d) expressing outrage at any innocently coincidental thing that might be seen as insensitive.
In the case of the Aurora shooting, it seemed to take about an hour after the major media outlets had published their first complete news stories that the tide turned from generic grief messages to rejoinders about gun control and party politics.
And then came the viral social media campaign to get actor Christian Bale to show up at the victims' hospital rooms to do ... what? Not exactly be Batman? Tell them he was sorry? It ultimately took less than a week for Bale to bow to the pressure and visit some of the hospitalized victims. Sure, he brightened the days of a few of the wounded, but those reacting on Facebook and Twitter seemed more satisfied that their "slacktivism" earned them a minor victory in the drama.
And that's what it's all about, isn't it? A moment of unified national horror immediately gives way to me-me-me-ism. How does the tragedy make me feel? What's my opinion on the matter? How can I inject myself into drama that has nothing to do with me?
I love social media, but they encourage some to adopt unsightly group mentalities when tragedy strikes -- which is exactly the times I will stay away from my social networks.
Esther J. Cepeda's e-mail address is estherjcepeda(at)washpost.com
Copyright 2012 Washington Post Writers Group