Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Reflections on Highway 63 and Social Media

There is no doubt that I love social media, and much of my personal and professional life revolves around a world of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the other social media applications that fill my laptop and cell phone on a daily basis. There are times, though, when I wonder if social media has affected us in such a way that we have become increasingly disconnected with the others in our world, and if it has, in fact, fostered a much closer relationship with our ghoulish and less compassionate side. A story in the Fort McMurray Today may be an indication of the development of that relationship with our darker side.

The recent tragic collision on Highway 63 left one person dead, another casualty in a string of senseless tragedies to occur on that road. I have a love/hate relationship with that highway, both loving the connection it brings us to the outside world and hating the high cost it has wreaked on our community as more and more individuals see their lives end far earlier than they should. This relationship with the highway surfaces with the news of every collision, and with every new death my relationship with this ribbon of road becomes more and more complicated. During this last incident, though, the RCMP and others attending the scene noted some worrisome behaviour from the drivers passing the mangled wreckage.
The drivers of these other vehicles were taking photographs and videos of the collision scene – while driving.

Now, distracted driving is illegal in this province, and for good reason. The audacity and lack of common sense displayed by these drivers is almost beyond comprehension, as they had just spent a good deal of time held up due to a fatal collision, and then they engaged in a behaviour that could easily lead to similar end results. I think it goes deeper and worse, though, as many of these drivers probably suspected a fatality, but instead of driving by quietly and reflecting on the life lost instead they decided to take a photo, like a tourist at a roadside attraction.
I wonder if these same people would take photographs and videos in an ICU where someone has just died. Would they do it if this was the death scene of a member of their family, a spouse or child or other loved one? Are we truly so disconnected and lacking in compassion that the scene where someone has died in a tragic way becomes nothing more than a photograph snapped so we can share it on our Facebook pages?

I don’t entirely blame social media. This sort of fascination existed even before the advent of Twitter and Facebook, but social media has made it so much easier for all of us to forget that these are scenes where someone has died and instead see them as just another photograph for our Mobile Upload album. We forget that someday it could be the scene where someone we love has died, and how it would feel to know that at least ten people drove by snapping photos and videos of the place where they lost their life.
The RCMP have not only charged the drivers in this incident but ensured that the drivers will have a mandatory court date where they will get to explain their actions to a judge. They will have to face their peers and explain why they felt such photos and videos were necessary, putting themselves and others into the same kind of peril that was just witnessed on that highway. They may not have reflected on their actions at the scene of the collision, but perhaps they will reflect on them now.

I have never taken a photograph of the scene of a collision. I suspect in the past I have shared them, though, and I find myself reflecting on that and finding myself determined that I will not share them again, both out of respect for the deceased, the family and friends of the deceased, the professionals who responded to the incident and a desire to not encourage the kind of behaviour that will find ten drivers facing a judge. I didn’t personally see the aftermath of the recent collision on Highway 63, but I have found myself reflecting on my love/hate relationship with that highway and social media. I have found myself reflecting on my own responsibility as a driver and a human being that aspires to display true and genuine compassion. It seems the drivers who drove past the scene of a terrible collision and decided to snap a few photos aren’t the only ones in need of some reflection on their actions. Maybe that reflection is something we all need.

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