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Marc Mason is a freelance writer based in Tempe, AZ.

Thursday, April 19, 2007  

There’s an ugly, unspoken truth about the massacre at Virginia Tech this past Monday, one that no one really wants to talk about or admit exists. And it is this: what happened isn’t really a shock. Anyone who says it’s a shock is a liar or someone living with his or her head outside of reality. No, the dirty little secret behind what happened is that the real shock value comes in that it doesn’t happen more often.

Because, let’s face reality, we know that we’re lucky it doesn’t. Looking at the killer behind what happened at V.T., he was a textbook example of someone ready to go off at any time. He had a long period of isolation and loneliness, his writings became more disturbed, there were reports of him harassing female students and a lack of a dating history, he had a history of psychological problems and medication for them… his paranoia and anger were mounting, and finally he exploded. Sad, horrific, but you’ve yet to hear a single person express surprise, have you? Nope. And they’re not going to, either. Again, anyone who actually does try to is in total denial or a liar of mammoth proportions. He was a known time bomb, and people blithely walked by him every day, ignoring the danger, like people who refuse to use condoms because they figure it can’t happen to them. Let this Monday’s events say it loud: it can happen to you, and if you aren’t paying attention, it will.

I’ve seen a huge rush to point the finger of blame this week, which is pretty standard at this point. I’ve seen video games blamed. Hollywood’s output. The little-known adverse effects of anti-depressants. Even the school itself. But those are simplistic reasons meant to get someone’s name in the headlines. No, I think the real blame lies in the root changes that have taken place in our society over the past ten years and how they’ve changed everything about how we live and one huge elephant in the room:


Ever. I mean ever. The ability to become disassociated from the world is one we each possess, and it happens at a younger and younger age.

Think about it. Technology has finally made it possible to live your life without ever having to interact with other people in person. Need food? Grocery stores now deliver. Pizza delivery is a multi-billion dollar business. Hell, even sit-down restaurants affiliate themselves with companies that will pick up to-go orders and deliver them. Need gas in your car? Pay at the pump. Got bills or rent to pay? Use your bank account online to do it electronically. Need some sort of social interaction, but don’t have the skills to do it at a bar? Chat online. Even if you finally realize you need some sort of intimacy, even on a temporary basis, the escort services and prostitutes have joined the techno-revolution and do online-booking. You can move to a new home by booking a truck online, then using the web to set up your utilities and pay your deposits. Even renewing your license plate doesn’t mean a trip to the DMV anymore.

Compounding technology’s influence, it can also actively cause us to turn away from others even when using it to “communicate.” I work at one of the largest universities in the world, and many years ago, I was a student there as well. During my undergraduate years, it was a very different place; it was before 90% of the student population had a cell phone. Today when I walk around campus, I see people barely talking to or acknowledging one another; instead, they’re talking to someone else in their insular world and ignoring those around them. Or, barring that, they have earbuds in, listening to the songs downloaded to their iPods. Conversation between two living, breathing people has declined precipitously. Little wonder, in that environment, that those who feel isolated begin to retreat further into their own heads.

It compounds from there. The isolationist nature of our culture has bred even more superficiality into it as well. With our mighty technological gifts, the distance between the Haves and Have Nots grows. The Haves can enhance their physicality with expensive clothes, plastic surgery, the finest cars… the Have Nots, while not left behind by technology, lose ground as the Haves use that artificiality to widen the gulf. The sneers of those Haves who look down on those that don’t “fit” have never sounded louder; before, those sneers were simply part of a personality flaw. Now, they stem from a sense of entitlement- you do not belong in their expensive, perfectly constructed world, and you must be excised to the margins. Immediately.

I appreciate the irony that I’m sitting here writing this alone in my house, so eloquently and egotistically displaying the results in my own technological vanity space. But the truth is, I am writing this from a place of fear and worry, no matter where I am. Our society isn’t working towards solutions to bring people together; rather, we’re working to improve the technology so that we can streamline and automate even more of human existence. Ultimately, that means we’re going to keep breeding more and more discontent amongst those who feel marginalized and disconnected, and the violence they cause will escalate. You can try and offer up solutions like religion, but that’s not really an institution in good shape right now. Until we find a way to start reconnecting with one another and creating a world in which we can make the isolated join us and feel comfortable, the danger will remain, and the ticking sound in their heads will get louder and louder. We’d all damned well better hope we aren’t around when the mechanism fires.


9:56 PM

Good column Marc- as I said already- I love the irony
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