Unfortunately, I got caught up in the disturbing riot that happened at CBC plaza yesterday. Fortunately, I have also seen an amazing City come together, in less than 24 hours, to quieten the insanity. My respect for the members of the Vancouver Police Department and the Vancouver Fire Department has deepened, as has my respect for caring and brave citizenship, which I witnessed first hand.
What has left me deeply concerned is the level of disconnection that I witnessed from regular people, like you and me, at the ‘scene’ who were pulled into the moment. I guess we all accept now that we live in two worlds, the digital world of shared photos, videos and virtual experiences and the real world of cats and dogs. We all assume that the difference between the two worlds is self-evident, however, as I have been arguing on this blog before, it is obvious now that these differences have become significantly blurred in people’s minds. It is also evident that the consequences of ignoring this realization are becoming increasingly negative upon mental health and social responsibility. I would ask you to consider the following photographs, that I have sourced from the Internet.
If you look at this first photograph, whilst ignoring the backdrop, you will see an attractive young woman posing for the camera in the same way we all do for a family photo, but she’s in the middle of a riot with a burning car behind her.
In this second photograph, if you ignore the backdrop again, you will see a healthy young man posing for the camera in the same way we all do for a photo at the beach, except there’s two burning cars behind him.
It must be because they are so young, right? This third photograph shows an older man taking a self-portrait with his phone, in the same way he might with a scenic mountain backdrop, but he is also in front of a burning car with flames now 20-30 feet high. It looks like he is trying to make sure he gets everything in the frame OK. He must have been drunk, right?
In this fourth photograph the couple look like they are going for a responsible Sunday stroll and he is taking a photograph of her in much the same way a couple going on a romantic date would, except she is standing next to a burning trash can.
You’re probably starting to see a pattern here. Regular people recording regular moments without an apparent concern for the reality around them i.e. a burning riot. What is happening here? Have we become so disconnected from natural emotional responses to reality that we now even ignore these responses when we are in a real burning riot? The answer is…YES and it is now life threateningly dangerous. Each of the people in these photos could be you and me, apparently enjoying a virtual riot and life threatening situation, much like we have all seen thousands of times on Youtube, except the experience was real. At any moment any one of the cars could have exploded.
I don’t have the answers to what needs to happen, but something has to happen and fast to reconnect people to the real world and to ensure that everyone clearly understands and is conscious of the difference between a digital experience and a real one. As communication professionals we can all certainly play our part in this and start to connect people to reality through social media, not the other way around. You know I was going to keep quiet on this insight, but I love Vancouver too much not to share this understanding and not to voice my very real concern about this social issue.
To emphasis my point I leave you with, what is to me, the most disturbing image. I would ask you to note the young man standing, at the back, on top of the burning car. A clean cut young man, he is calmly taking a photo with a phone in his right hand. He does not look excited or concerned at all as he takes the photo. He is, in reality, standing in the middle of a riot, on top of an overturned burning car that could explode at any moment.
He is standing in the virtual riot, that was real.