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Watching our social fabric being rapidly torn apart, all through the lens of a phone

Opinion

Like a real-life version of The Truman Show, we’re rapidly turning into a nation of spectators – with a macabre sense of what is acceptable viewing, writes Madonna King.

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A man is stabbed to death in broad daylight on a suburban Brisbane street this week and several onlookers reach for their phone to ensure every moment of it is captured.

In another case, only eight weeks earlier, tiny cameras snap a young Brisbane man in the throes of death, clutching his throat, as his alleged attackers flee. At last count, it had been viewed four million times.

Why?

Why, with police and paramedics already in attendance, do adults feel the need to capture and keep that brutality and heartache?

Is it the modern day equivalent of rubber-necking, where some families would go for drives to find the source of a house fire or stop by the road to watch – not help – the aftermath of a traffic accident?

That is perplexing enough – but to upload the grisly footage and share it on different social media platforms where it is watched over and over and over defies both logic and decency.

We used to worry about our children’s addictions to gaming. Video games were the scourge of a whole generation of young boys, we were told. But who needs those, when we have real life?

Online sharing of students brawling is now commonplace. But it shouldn’t be. How do we counter those images of Ipswich students viciously attacking each other being uploaded onto social media accounts? Or cameras, set up in prime position, to capture another orchestrated brawl between girls on the Sunshine Coast.

It seems we are now all living in a movie, or choosing to sit behind the camera and direct it. Whole lives are documented on social media. Embarrassing gaffes. Moments of madness. Secrets we used to hide. And if we are not starring in them, we are filming them.

Each morning, we can wake up and check the grainy videos of those caught trying to breach the trust and the locked doors of homes in our neighbourhood.

We set up dash cam, just in case. We pass cyclists who are weighed down with cameras taking images from every angle. Back to base alarms have skyrocketed in popularity, and we kit out our homes with CCTV cameras as insurance to protect those we love.

But at what cost? Where did this escalate from security to morbid curiosity? When did it go from acceptable to plain unacceptable?

There are some things you simply cannot un-see. I wince at the rapid-fire punches of children in uniforms filling my screen. “Break his teeth!’’. Another blow. And another.

This should make us all feel sick: the fact that it is happening, and that its currency is in likes and views and shares.

But murder? How can anyone not be affected by the brutality of a knife carving the life out of another human being?

And what’s the impact on our children, who are now seeing this as it pops up on site after site after site?

We are not taking about video games here. This is real life. And it needs to stop.

Perhaps police might be contributing to the problem here: the constant call for the public to hand over dash cam footage and CCTV images only encourages its use.

But to what end? The diminution of trust. A focus on the bad. The risk that we are telling a generation of children to tone down their technology use, as we envelop it under the pretence that we are using it for ‘good’.

Where’s our fear about the impact of that on our teens, particularly boys, because this is real life.

Distress. Trauma. Sleeplessness. Anxiety. You cannot watch the slow death of a human being and not be affected.

So where’s the call to drop the movie chronicling our lives before its red carpet opening? Where’s the adult discussion on responsible use of phones?

It would be an appalling script where our teens are told to spend less time on their devices and less time gaming, while the adults in their lives help direct a macabre real-life movie featuring murder, mayhem and mistrust.

But that seems to be the plot developing in front of us, making life into a video game. Except it’s not.

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