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Do I Need to See That?
by Brad

 My wife walked away from the computer. “I don’t need to see that!”: Colonel Gadhafi captured, terrified, pleading for his life—thanks to a cell phone video—and covered in blood.

Although the local papers refrained from publishing the photo of his bloody corpse on their front pages, the damage had been already done. All over the Web, events like this are instantly broadcast using wireless technology and the simple and powerful video cameras present in most every new phone.

I wondered to myself: Do I need to see that? It gave me a sick feeling, not only witnessing one man’s terror, but also hearing the jubilant shouts of the rebel fighters who were, if press reports are true, to execute him moments later. Now, I hear that people are lining up to take photos of his corpse at a local butcher shop and, once again, I ran across a photo on the internet which showed multiple hands and phones held above his body.

On one hand I feel that, by seeing the worst we are capable of, people will be aware of the dangers posed by the mob. On the other, it seems clear that routinely seeing such atrocities on our screens must, as a side effect, lead to a hardening of our hearts and a growing acceptance of brutality.

Recently, a study found that using harsh language and expletives lead to a greater level of and acceptance of violence in that person’s life. If that is true, then how will the constant flow of it in images splashed across our screens affect us? Likely, it already has.

My wife has a point. Not only does she find such images disturbing, she is right about whether there is a need to see them at all. I am reminded of another story that happened locally: a man falsely accused of another’s murder and threatened with death by strangers on the internet.

The urge to make everything “instant” makes it hard to have any kind of distance (and time for reflection) on events. Images are powerful, communicating huge amounts of information, while, at the same time, bringing us a world we barely have time to assimilate. Then, within hours, we are moving on, affected, no doubt, by what we’ve seen but unsure how, exactly, we might feel for having had that experience.

Sometimes, I wish more of us would say, “I don’t need to see that.”

(October 23, 2011)

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(Includes all 2002 to date Weekly Features with descriptions)