Greek mythology says that Narcissus was so in love with his own reflection, he died staring at it. I wonder sometimes, when I see people on their cell phones or PDAs, if we’re not in danger of a similar fate.
This month, a man allegedly shot and killed his wife, took a photo of the grisly body, then posted it on Facebook along with a farewell to his public.
“I’m going to prison or death sentence for killing my wife,” he posted, “love you guys miss you guys take care Facebook people you will see me in the news.”
He then turned himself in to police.
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Meanwhile, a week earlier, an Alabama TV reporter was fired after she posted a list of confessions to her personal blog. Among these “confessions”? That she has gone bra-less on the air, that her best sources are the ones who secretly have a crush on her, that positive news depresses her, that she is afraid of old people and refuses to do stories about them. And, “If you ramble and I deem you unnecessary for my story, I’ll stop recording but let you think otherwise.”
She actually took the post down briefly, then put it back up proudly, saying she believes in free speech.
Yet she wonders why she was fired.
Now, these two cases are hardly equal, yet they illustrate how we live on the Internet. Today, it seems more important to ensure that cyberspace strangers know what we’re doing than to follow what common sense – or common decency – dictates.
So the man who allegedly murdered his wife, Derek Medina, told the world in his note that she had been abusive to him, as if that might explain why he shot her multiple times, as he later told police.
Medina apparently posted the photo of his bloodied wife on Facebook while their 10-year-old daughter was in the house. He calls himself a professional writer, at least on his website (and of course, he has a website) where he cites his books, including one that gives advice on marital and communication problems.
You can’t make this up.
Meanwhile, the Alabama reporter, Shea Allen, portrays herself as a staunch defender of the First Amendment and refers to herself proudly as “a journalist through and through.” Yet her blog looks like a glamour page, and her “confession” that she may have stolen mail and put it back and that she’s better when “I have no idea what I’m talking about” isn’t the kind of free speech journalists have fallen on their swords for over the years.
Both of these cases – and countless others – illustrate an unhealthy relationship with cyberspace that I fear is sucking more and more human beings into its grasp. It is hard to sit with teenagers now and actually hold their gaze. They are all fingers and screens and lowered eyelids. And when something awful happens, the first move seems to be to get it up on the Internet – no matter who it might hurt or embarrass – like the recent case of a Canadian teenager who hanged herself after a year of torment, following what her parents said was a gang rape. The alleged attackers posted pictures of the sexual acts taking place. As if the alleged attack weren’t enough, the girl had to endure the whole world having access to it.
The perversion of a mind that would do this type of thing is hard to imagine – at least to most people over 25. But then, so is a man who allegedly murders his wife then thinks about Facebook posting.
At some point, all this will explode. At some point, laws will be made – no matter how itchy they make the First Amendment – because something too horrible, too heinous, too disgusting will take place.
If nothing happens, if we merely go on this way, it will mean we have grown used to a world where entertaining the masses is our first impulse, and staring at ourselves is our top compulsion, like Narcissus.
And look at what happened to him.
Mitch Albom is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Email malbomfreepress.com.