September 28, 2020

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Vancouver melee brings out a dark, disturbing side of social media

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/6/2011 (3391 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

THROUGH the crowd we can see someone taking a few lazy swats at the glass of one of the window displays at the Bay department store in downtown Vancouver. The glass doesn't give way and a large man enters the frame to shoo away the would-be destroyer. A shaky pan and we see the window next to this one being assaulted and hear shouts of support, it seems, from the large crowd, who are pleased by this attempt at destruction.

The camera spins around and we see bus stops being shaken, newspaper boxes kicked. It's a dervish of mild disobedience, but it soon gets worse.

Someone is now armed with a proper window-breaking weapon -- a long metal pole -- and has succeeded at breaking the Bay's glass. Another man comes in, dressed casually, ready for a day on the beach, takes over the pole and proceeds to remove most of the window as though the motion comes naturally to him. He grabs a mannequin and runs while the large man we met earlier decides he's had enough.

He pushes two of the more aggressive destroyers back and then, grabbing the pole, drives the crowd back -- single-handedly -- away from the storefront.

For his trouble, he's blindsided, punched in the back of the head by a dozen fists, pushed to the ground, and kicked by members of the crowd. How dare he stop anyone from having fun?

As disturbing as the bulk of the YouTube videos are -- the casual attitude of the destruction, the way people turn instantly and effortlessly to violence -- There is something a great deal more unsettling about it.

Nearly half of the crowd is tracking along silently, their right arms outstretched and holding cellphones, recording the madness. As the man is being kicked in the back, the person closest to him is recording -- not intervening. It takes a few seconds before someone jumps in and stands over the man, screaming at others to get away.

This is our technological age at its worst. Our impulses have changed; our wiring is different. Instead of the human impulse to stop another human from being injured, we tend now to observation, recording and -- much later -- to thinking.

We've become so used to recording and rewatching our lives on a two-inch screen that we've forgotten to live in them. The technological revolution is not without its wonders -- one of which is, certainly, the prevalence of cheap and simple-to-use video recorders -- but the mental cost of our easy, techy times is rarely discussed.

The chronicling urge -- that metaphysical desire to create a running commentary on our lives, to document it all -- makes us stop thinking and stop caring. Everyday citizens are assuming the journalist's (not-quite-right) sense of detachment from the subject -- but that subject is the citizen's life.

We can see everything, for better or worse. We get videos like the one described here, and though it reveals our nation of chroniclers as being lousy journalists as well as lousy Samaritans, it shows us our heroes too -- like the man who jumps in to stand over and protect the badly beaten man. And, like a child's bright kite against a greying sky, our heroes look all the more brilliant for the dullness of their backdrop.


-- Postmedia News


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