We have come a long way since Flight 90.
And the place we have reached isn’t all that good.
Flight 90 was the Air Florida flight that crashed into the 14th Street Bridge across the Potomac River on Jan. 13, 1982.
It stands out not for the crash itself but from the heroics of bystanders.
Several jumped into the icy waters to try and save those who had survived the original crash and managed to crawl from the sinking fuselage. Then there was the passenger – 46–year-old Arland Williams Jr. –who numerous times passed on lifelines lowered to him to let others be rescued before he himself perished.
Based on how voyeuristic cell phone video has made society, the heroics that Flight 90 prompted would be tough to see repeated today.
Not only do we have our noses pointed at social media whether it is a smartphone or tablet as we walk about or wait in public but we are inclined to respond to tragedy not by helping or calling for help but by recording what is unfolding and posting it as quickly as possible to the Internet.
Last month in San Francisco — the city that is slowly become the new soul of the Silicon Valley with all of its cutting edge start-ups — 20-year-old student Justin Valdez was shot and killed on a packed commuter train. The man who shot him was captured on security video. Minutes before he randomly picked his victim, video footage clearly shows the gunman waving around his .45 caliber gun. At one point he aims across the aisle with the weapon. No one noticed as all passengers had their eyes glued to smartphones and tablets.
Social media hasn’t only made us less social but it’s disconnecting us from the real world unless, of course, we are recording it to go virtual.
It is little wonder that smartphones are now the No. 1 theft item in many cities. Typically they are snatched out of the hands of users as they walk self-absorbed in their virtual Internet worlds.
Study after study show we are spending more of our time staring at screens whether they are a part of a TV, computers, or smartphones.
Besides what some experts consider an epidemic of younger and younger people developing dry eye issues all of that screen time is changing us in ways that aren’t very flattering.
It has made many of us feel free to bully, insult, and degrade others. It is much easier to dehumanize people when you’re not doing it face-to-face.
It is easier to disconnect from other people and society despite the hullabaloo over flash mobs and such.
There is nothing intimate or relationship building with a flash mob. It is impulsive and thanks to their short-lived nature it creates a false sense of community.
We don’t bond or build connections to others through pillow fights or some other instantaneous, massive, and fleeting gathering. Mob mentality is just that – mob mentality.
Living our lives through social media is essentially changing us.
If you doubt that, check out YouTube. Violent public encounters that are posted almost always show bystanders who have whipped out their cellphones and are busy recording it while rarely does anyone try to intervene or call for help.
Flight 90 saw bystanders try to help instead of gawk and record.
One would hope they’d still be people like Lenny Skutnik who dove into the water to help a fellow human in need. In today’s reality the most likely response is to record the tragedy first and foremost and post it as quickly as possible in a race to get the most hits instead of calling for help or intervening if one is able to do so.
The San Francisco student was killed by a gunman that authorities describe as mentally unstable and not at the hands of bystanders. An investigation yielded nearby security camera video that showed the suspect a few days earlier stalking another man and actually pointing a gun at the back of his head but not pulling the trigger as he apparently changed his mind.
But you’ve got to wonder if Justin Valdez would be alive today is most of us didn’t walk around the world as social media zombies.
In a way, the zombie crazy that keeps growing and not retreating is the ultimate symbol of the new world we are creating with our self-absorption in the Internet whether it is via mobile devices or computers.
The flesh and blood world doesn’t rule human passions anymore for many.
Instead it is the cold calculating world of zombies. And just like zombies what is posted on the Internet never dies including images of heartless — or if you prefer lost — souls recording brutal acts with their smartphones.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209-249-3519.