I use an iPad app called Newsify to gather the news of the day. This morning it tells me that I have 1500 stories waiting for my attention. In addition, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal both pop up on my screen every morning. But, you see, I teach about technology and the Internet. So naturally, I have set the "preferences" on all those news sources to focus on those kinds of stories. The algorithms on each site then "refines" my preferences to make sure that I know immediately if the hiring requests by the Foxconn factory in China prove that Apple is rushing a new, smaller iPad to market. My eyes, and the myriad "brain bots" of my aggregator apps, ceaselessly scour the Internet for any tiny techie tidbit that might be useful for my students. I cannot remember the last time I did something so mundane as "watch the news" or read the local paper. Maybe when I retire. But not now, I have "more important" things to do.
That precision of focus may explain, but cannot not forgive, the fact that a full day passed before I learned that a deranged young man walked into a crowded theater and pulled out an AR-15 assault rifle, a Remington 12-gauge shotgun, and a couple of .40 caliber Glock handguns. When he finished shooting, 12 people had been slaughtered, and dozens more lay injured. The shootings occurred outside Denver, just down the road from another icon of contemporary tragedy, Columbine High School. This time the innocents had gathered for the midnight premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises," the Nolan brothers' latest somber Batman homage. No doubt an endless parade of posts and tweets, blogs and bits and bytes will fill our screens trying to again make sense of the senseless, to separate irony from insanity, to decide whether the guns or the shooter were culpable. I wish us well in those endeavors.
I, however remain shaken that, despite the fact that I live much of my life immersed in a contemporary 15-second news cycle, I simply missed this. Today, Colorado is a nanosecond from Carolina. In digital time, 24 hours is an eon. There is something broken in the media environment, in the preferences, in the algorithms and spiders and bots that present me with Foxconn as informational wheat, and winnows Denver out as chaff. As our "search profiles" become more and more "refined" by our own hand, and by the increasingly insistent nudges from our various digital assistants, those preferences become more blinders than guides. I am distressed that as people died and their families mourned, I did not even share with them the moment of transient sadness that seems to pass for grief these days.
I'm sorry. I didn't know. I just didn't know.