If I say "Steubenville," you might feel your heart begin to pound or your blood begin to boil. You might recall the anger you felt this past March, especially if you saw the video of that young man laughing about the rape of a 16-year-old girl or you heard Candy Crowley and Poppy Harlow expressing sympathy for the two teenagers after the guilty verdict.
If you are like me, however, you haven't thought much about that case since the media frenzy stopped. Chances are, Steubenville and all the faces and names started to fade into your memory the moment that people on your Facebook and Twitter feeds stopped posting links to articles about it.
There were, after all, so many other controversies vying for our attention -- the IRS scandal, the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA, Edward Snowden blowing the lid off the NSA surveillance.
Before any of that there was Todd Akin making comments about "legitimate rape." Remember that? An actual national politician talking about how the female body had ways "to shut that whole thing down," at least according to what he'd heard from doctors. It feels like this happened eons ago, but in actuality it hasn't even been a full year.
This rapid pace of information flow has been dubbed the "24-hour news cycle," and like most things in life, it's both a blessing and a curse. Yes, we can find out about anything at any given time as the events are unfolding, but there's so much happening, so much demanding our attention that nothing stays in the spotlight for too long.
The cycle moves at lightning speed: an event takes place, the media reports on it, articles are written, comments stack up underneath the articles and then, we move on. We forget. Not completely, of course, but mostly.
Mostly, we forget.
We only have room for so much and it feels like we reach a saturation point on a daily basis. We have to wring ourselves out before we can absorb more.
The latest flash point is the verdict rendered in the George Zimmerman trial. It seems that everyone has an opinion on the verdict. Even President Obama stepped into the fray. He spoke candidly about the country's reaction to the jury's decision. He explained the context for the anger that many African Americans felt as they watched Zimmerman go free, a context grounded in a long history of discrimination. Obama even recounted his own experience with being racially profiled.
The reporting and commenting began the moment that Obama stepped away from the microphone. Tweets fluttered out into cyberspace. Memes were made. News stations ran the story. Articles were written. Comments piled up underneath -- hundreds, thousands.
Becky Bratu wrote an article on the NBC News website about the mixed reaction to President Obama's remarks. Over 1,800 comments were posted in response (please note that these are exact, uncorrected quotes):
"The Obama Administration is out of control...I think it's time for white people to leave America."
"The President is fanning the flames of racial conflict in this country"
"I did not vote for Obaama because he is only half white and the other half of
him is from real African decent. He only acts black because he knows that will get more votes. He does not act or talk like a most blacks."
I found the comments startling. Not because of their mean-spirited tone, their inherent racism or their utter disregard for spelling and grammar. This is standard fare in comment galleries on the Internet. What I found most startling was the sheer volume.
It doesn't take a mathematician to figure out that if you multiply the number of articles written about President Obama's speech by the number of commenters out in cyberspace, you will come up with a number that translates into a whole lot of people who are both literate enough to troll news sites and inflamed enough to write nasty, derogatory remarks. That's a lot of fiery discourse.
I'm all for free speech, but I have to admit that I find myself wondering what good comes from all of this. This constant whirlwind of coverage and tweeting and posting and sounding off stirs up such an enormous dust cloud that it becomes difficult to stay focused on the actual story. Instead of talking about rape, people wind up arguing about how much responsibility the victim bore in the events that unfolded. By the time the dust begins to settle, the public is generally on to the next great controversy.
I wish that every so often we would we turn and look back as that dust cloud began to dissipate. We might catch a glimpse of the young girl in Steubenville, Ohio who is trying to be 16-year-old again, trying to go on dates or to the prom, trying to rebuild her life. We would see a mother and a father in Florida going to bed every night aching over the loss of their son, over the void that his absence has created. We would be reminded about the things that truly matter.
If we looked back once in a while rather than always ahead, maybe some of the anger we feel over "the issues" would be outweighed by a feeling of compassion for the people affected and maybe, just maybe, we would start to change the tone of the discourse.