The Consequences of Our Rapid-Fire Culture

The shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others this past weekend in Tucson has engendered many discussions. Some about the tone and temperature of our political rhetoric. Some about the easy availability and accessibility of handguns. And others about the psychological and sociological catalysts that spurred a young man from such a seemingly unremarkable background to a murderous rampage.

All of those questions, and others that stem from them, are worthy of exploration and analysis. From a tragedy such as this, we can only hope to learn something as a result of the carnage, and be the better for it.

But I find myself wondering, as I watch and read the unfolding news coverage of this event, if, as a society, we remain equipped to pause long enough to consider the long-term ramifications of any event, tragic or otherwise. I worry that, just as the alleged shooter was able to, in a matter of seconds, take six lives and irrevocably alter scores of others, our rapid-fire culture will ricochet us past this story before we are fully able to comprehend its meaning.

Increasingly, our society seems to value adrenaline-fueled shouting matches in place of reasoned debate, and visceral reactions in lieu of serious contemplation of the issues at hand. Technology has enabled us to hurtle through space and time so quickly, that we seem endlessly trapped in a fight-or-flight mentality that precludes us from a serious examination of where we are headed.

In the political arena, we conduct serious policy discussions over Twitter, and in shouting matches on cable TV. In-depth news coverage of an issue consists of a five-minute segment on a nightly news program, and the insatiable demands of our Internet and social media culture propel us toward the next sensational item before we've even had the chance to digest what we've just heard, read or seen. We are so bombarded by information, and each piece is so stridently amplified, that, in the cacophony, we process nothing.

In our personal lives, we conduct and maintain our most valued relationships over the Internet, and through text messaging. We communicate back and forth extraordinarily quickly. So quickly, I would argue, that we never actually engage in real conversation. We hardly know what we're saying, and are thus oblivious to how our message is being received.

In the world of commerce, trading is done at such an accelerated speed that the stock market can drop precipitously in a matter of seconds, and seemingly out of nowhere. Financial institutions acquire and divest assets without ever really knowing what they're worth. And consumers buy and discard products and services at a breathtaking pace, yet can never be fully satisfied, given the unending roll-out of newer, better, and most importantly, faster products.

In short, we live now in a society that moves, speaks, spends and consumes at breakneck speed. But what's missing from that equation is the time to stop and think about the ramifications to our culture that such speed brings. Without time for thoughtful reflection over where we're going, or what we're saying, buying or consuming, we render our institutions and ourselves vulnerable to a host of unforeseen consequences, many of them destructive or tragic.

I hope, as many are calling for pause and a period of examination over what caused the tragedy in Tuscon, that we might extend that pause for a bit longer and consider the sobering implications of a culture that risks so much for the sake of speed.