As we, as a society, continue to advance our technological capabilities, we’re able to accomplish things once thought to be impossible. We can treat disease and sickness with precision and care that doctors 50 years ago would never have been able to imagine. Nations can spot an advancing enemy far before they ever become an invading threat. Friends and colleagues can have a “face-to-face” conversation while being hundreds of miles apart.

With those same advances, we’ve come into an age of instant media and an ability to, for the most part, have a very clear understanding of what is going on in our world.

Recently, during coverage of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, CNN ran a story of an 11-year-old girl who was pinned under fallen rubble, with only her leg preventing her from being freed. For two days, family and friends fed and cared for the young girl as volunteers worked to get her out. They were finally successful. As she was being transferred to a better facility that would be capable of treating her leg and shoulder injuries, she passed away. Her last words were, “Mother, don’t let me die.”

Our thirst and desire for the most complete coverage of every event has put faces, and names, and stories to the tragedies that befall us. Most news gets phased out in the 24-hour news cycle. Some events, such as the earthquake, garner round-the-clock coverage.

This constant bombardment raises the question of when, if ever, is it too much? Where does it end?

We’re able to see nearly live footage of Anderson Cooper walking around the mass graves of Haiti. We’re able to see the human touch of a reporter holding the hand of the aforementioned young girl … only to hear him announce her passing mere days later.

This subject puts us in a precarious position. While the coverage helps us see the cruel realities of the world and allows us to become an educated, informed populace, it has also removed the shield of naiveté and innocence.

Give a thought, for a moment, of what would have happened had this earthquake occurred 60 years ago, in 1950. For certain, we would have found out about it, perhaps a day or two after the fact. We may even have seen a photograph or two after a couple more days. Slowly, more and more reports would have filtered out, albeit at a snail’s pace, and perhaps after two weeks, we would have had a firm grasp, relative to the time period, of what had happened, the potential numbers associated with it, and what was being done. No names, no faces, no individual stories. Those, if any, wouldn’t come for months, or even years, once those who lived them were able to recount them for us.

Fast-forward to present-day. Eleven minutes after the earthquake struck, an event that alone may have instantly killed 30,000 or more in the span of only a few minutes, I found out about it. I could recall what I was doing before and while it was happening, completely oblivious to the fact. Within 20 minutes, I could pull up a U.S. Geological Survey map and see the affected areas. Thirty-five minutes, the news first starts to hint at the event. Forty-five minutes after it occurred, and they’re into breaking news.

Think about that. Forty-five minutes. In less than an hour, details that once may have taken days to reach us were already coming in. Two hours after it, we start seeing the first pictures on social media sites, and then on the airwaves. Six hours afterward, Anderson Cooper is on an airplane bound for the small island. Within 24 hours, we have live broadcasts and endless B-roll footage of the aftermath.

We’ve just taken a factual awareness that six decades ago would have taken perhaps two weeks, and in the cases of individual accounts, perhaps years, and crammed it into one day. The question is, why?

On the positive side, it helps us to react by opening our hearts and our wallets to aid those in need.

Perhaps on the negative side, it forces us to react to the harsh, dire, truly earth-shattering events going on around us.

When is it too much? Where is the limit? Is there a limit? Is it learning the stories? Is it watching a dump truck hastily unload a hundred bodies into a make-shift mass grave, bodies, lives, that will simply disappear forever into the countryside? How much can we handle?

I tend to think of myself as an emotionally tough person — a product of this day and age. However, I find myself having an impossibly difficult time processing all of this. I can’t forget the footage, the photos. I can’t forget the stories.

I can’t forget the faces.

Michael Dumas has worked as a political adviser
specializing in media and public relations. He was a former
candidate for the Maine House of Representatives. He lives in Lewiston.

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