Right from the start the internet has enabled us to share images. Even before the web the voyeuristic appeal of alt.misc.binaries exercised a strong pull on even the most vigilant attention. I remember stumbling across grainy images of Chinese executions involving gradual dismemberment of the victims and being haunted for days by the images. I still regret having seen them.
In time we learn which bits of the internet to avoid if we don’t want to be subjected to grotesque images but with the advent of social tools this is harder. It is not in our control what other people choose to share and horrific images can appear without warning in our news streams. We have to learn to look away. With the awful events in Gaza and the recent murder of James Foley, I am primed to react if people in my network share images I would rather not see.
Is this an attempt to hide from ugly truths? I don’t think so. I don’t need to see those images to understand human suffering. Reading about the holocaust and trying to understand the enormity of the horror is important, seeking out endless images of human degradation isn’t. Maybe it is a question of degree. Maybe it is a question of intent.
What is most upsetting to me about our ability to witness the last moments of another person is the loss of human dignity. Even state sanctioned capital punishment has always had a particular horror for me in it’s degrading ignominy. Nowadays this visceral reaction is not just to the event itself but to the fact that I could watch it happening in almost real time.
Roman circuses were a symptom of the decline of their empire and a loss of civilisation. We should remember that.
2 thoughts on “Learning to look away”
Hi Euan, brilliant post, and I couldn’t have agreed more with it! But I still think that technology over here, in this context, could do a whole lot more than what it is doing at the moment (i.e. nothing). While we can’t prevent who from our contacts shares what to come across in our timelines, I have always felt that technology should do a proper job to make it easier and more contextual for us all to decide whether I would want to see those images or not. I’m not too keen on seeing any of those captions to confirm how wrong humanity has gone, I totally get that even without them, which is why I would expect technology to smarten up and give me the choice to click on a button (or whatever), where I can decide if I want to see them or not, vs. the tool and the original sender sending it along, because they want to make a point across (whatever that may well be). Something along the lines of what The Big Picture – Boston does when reporting such violent human acts and leaves it down to the watcher / recipient to decide whether we would want to view the vivid imagery that they know is going to stick around in our heads for a long while. Something like that would be utterly refreshing, imo, at least, in order for us to learn further along how to look away …
I’ve always liked the idea of an "unsee" button (sadly an impossibility)