A few days ago, I was indulging in my usual pre-dinner habit of checking my Facebook notifications and scrolling through my feed. It was a pretty typical day.
I checked in with an online group I manage, and a dear member had posted a shocked plea for love and light. A teenaged neighbour had taken her own life in the backyard earlier that day. My friend heard the mother cry out. It’s spring. Sound travels. In the cool grass of a quiet street, a tortured young girl left us. A neighbourhood is stunned with grief.
Further into the feed, someone I met only recently through social media posted about the loss of his aged father, his brokenness a felt thing in the simple text of his post. Dispersed family and friends offer condolences, comfort each other and reminisce together in the online thread.
Further on, cat videos, and whining about poor customer service, the hockey draft, political ranting, a missing dog and cherry blossom photos.
Then: babies, weddings, good news humblebrags, and anniversaries.
I stop scrolling. I can’t take the ride. It’s too bumpy. There is too much going on.
Psychologically, how do we fit the news of a child’s suicide between dewy brides and the NHL draft picks?
I know this contrast isn't unique to the world of fast-moving online feeds. Our daily newspapers and television news crowd hard and soft stories together, and we ride the emotional roller coaster as the news unfolds.
Or we don't.
There is a way we are numbed to terrorist bombings, starving children, murder and mayhem. We’ve abandoned the nightly news in favour of Netflix binges. Fictional mayhem instead of actual, alternative facts instead of research.
I get it. I really do. Frankly, I’m an excellent escapist.
But lately? The suicide of a local girl, the death of a beloved father - these posts grazed my heart. They opened me.
Maybe it’s just me. I can’t let these things just pass by in the feed.
I need to stop and breathe, and let my heart break and ache for these parents, those neighbours, and the scattered children of a cherished dad.
That day, I got off my feeds. I needed to sit with the reality of these lives passing, and with the news of them passing through me.
As I write this, I am afraid. I am afraid we’re losing our humanity. I am afraid we’re becoming so post-happy, so quick to reply and engage that we’re forgetting how to absorb and to feel. I need to allow the naked hurting that reminds me I’m human and connected to the blood that bangs in my brain. My feelings need elbow room.
Social media is personal. It brings us up close to one another, but its pace and scope is impersonal.
Crammed newsfeeds leave us bouncing from joy to sorrow without regard for the pace of our senses. We’re left reeling, mortals stranded in an algorithmically induced emotional storm, our only recourse emoji-speak.
I’m only human. I want to worry about lost dogs, honour the terrible grief that loss carries, and sigh and soften over babies and falling cherry blossom petals.
A typical day online, offers all this, and more.
My question: What do we take offline? How much can we really carry in our own two arms, hold in our own two hands, and cherish in our single beating hearts?
Our heroine absorbs tragic news, reflects on the state of the news media and online emotional resiliency, and decides after all, that she is only human. Cherry blossom petals fall.