By now you’ve probably seen the latest video. If not, here it is:
Notice as one woman savagely beats another in a Georgia pizza shop, people are quick to pull out their cameras and videotape the shocking attack. But no one moves in to stop the assault.
It’s not, of course, the first time.
We seem to be conditioning ourselves as a society to value our videos going viral over everything else. How else to explain people taking to YouTube to do stupid things on camera that get them injured or even killed?
Several years ago a pedestrian was hit by a car on a Detroit freeway. Other drivers stopped but they didn’t jump out of their cars with their smart phones in hand with the intention of helping the injured person. State police say just one person, a nurse, gave the victim first aid. And she had to implored the others to stop using their phones to videotape long enough to phone 911.
In 2019 police on New York’s Long Island reported that a group of teens witnessed a 16-year-old getting beaten in a parking lot. But instead of calling for help, they videotaped his death.
In 2015 in Beaverton Oregon a group of people stood around videotaping a woman trapped inside a burning car. A teenager who saw that none of them were helping the woman rushed up and pulled her through a window. Fortunately the woman lived. But how could the others not help?
Smartphone cameras are getting better and better and I include myself as among those who have used mine to take and publish photographs. But we’re sadly becoming a narcissistic society where many people publish their lives online. Gracing social media with selfies and photos of the latest meal or drink they’ve ordered or prepared. This self-involved attitude extends to the need to be recognized for the videos we take and post. And this compulsion sometimes overrides another human trait - to be compassionate and to come to the aid of our fellow human beings.
I don’t pretend to be an expert in psychology or neuroscience. But I don’t think we need to be experts to observe that our brains can adapt to technology and the instant gratification one gets from going viral. It could be becoming a desire that overrides compassion, which Dr. Emma Seppala, a psychologist and science director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education called “our first instinct” in a 2013 Psychology Today article. But can that first instinct change?
Some scientists think the answer to that question is ‘‘yes.” In 2017, a pair of biology professors published a paper in the journal Science in which they conclude that instincts evolve from learning. Which raises the question; are we training ourselves to be instinctively less compassionate?
Clearly all this deserves greater study and public discourse. Not just because of the impact on individuals who suffer a “going viral syndrome.” But because of its implications on society as a whole.