Do Twitter and Facebook pose a moral risk?

Daily Telegraph, 13 April 2009

Today's fast-paced media could be making us indifferent to human suffering and should allow time for us to reflect, according to researchers.

They found that emotions linked to moral sense are slow to respond to news and events and have failed to keep up with the modern world. . . .

Using brain imaging, they found that humans can sort information very quickly and respond in fractions of a second to signs of physical pain in others, but admiration and compassion - two of the social emotions that define humanity - take much longer. . . .

Manuel Castells, a leading sociology expert at USC said: "The study has extraordinary implications for the human perception of events in a digital communication environment.

"Lasting compassion in relationship to psychological suffering requires a level of persistent, emotional attention."

He said he was most concerned about fast-moving TV or virtual games, adding: "In a media culture in which violence and suffering becomes an endless show, be it in fiction or in infotainment, indifference to the vision of human suffering gradually sets in."

The introductory sentences sounds like the news media creating scary hype out of this research. But the rate at which the media torrent (to use Todd Gitlin's phrase) overwhelms us is something which must provoke some moral reflection. It is a worrying thought that images and ideas, perhaps in juxtaposition though without any real connection, may come at us too quickly for us to react at an appropriate level. And if I read the news item correctly, that only needs six to eight seconds.

I have many thoughts from Gitlin in my head at the moment. I'll try to blog some of them over the next couple of weeks.

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© Tony Watkins, 2020
The Tony and Jane Watkins Trust oversees and supports the ministries of Tony and Jane Watkins in Christian training, education, and communication. It is a charity registered in England and Wales, no. 1062254.
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