habituation

We all know — though we don’t think of it often enough — that through highlighting and repeating certain events, the media make them seem more common and therefore more characteristic than they really are. So while there’s been a lot of talk over the past week or so about the misbehavior of fans in American stadiums — the stadiums fans have only recently been allowed to reenter — I’m not sure whether this is a real phenomenon or rather just a random set of events magnified by our love of outrage and the media’s compliant provision of opportunities for us to enjoy that love.

But I do wonder whether something is going on here. One of the most common debates about social media centers on this question: Do social media exacerbate tensions among Americans and make us more likely to act badly towards one another in person, or, conversely, do social media give us a useful outlet for our frustrations, opportunities to purge our negative emotions in such a way that we can better maintain courtesy towards our neighbors? One possibility is that we are seeing now what happens when people simply get out of the habit of being in the physical presence of other human beings and instead spend a year and a half stoking their own fears and hatreds. Maybe some people have just forgotten, literally forgotten, how to act in public. If so, let’s hope that when they get little more practice they’ll do better.

May 31, 2021

In Uncategorized

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