Since I'm living in the South, I didn't find out about the tragedy in my hometown of Aurora, Colo., from family and friends -- I found out from Facebook. During my lunch break, I saw a familiar image pop up all over my news feed, a theater just five minutes from my house, and then the pieces started to come together. And I have to say, Facebook is a really dissatisfying way to learn about something so devastating.
After graduating from Rangeview High School, I moved to Georgia to study writing at the Savannah College of Art and Design. A former writing professor of mine frequently writes about social media for the local paper in Savannah. She largely supports new media. But here's some food for thought: Does social media make dealing with a tragedy worse?
Does it? I know at the onset of Facebook, many people abstained, opting for real, person-to-person interaction -- but as a 20-something, I didn't completely buy into that argument. I feel like there are friends back home in Colorado that I simply wouldn't talk to without Facebook and I enjoy the instant message and video chat features. But after Friday's tragedy, Facebook provided no degree of emotional support -- to the point where at my lunch break at work I broke into tears while scrolling down a feed of prayer requests and poorly timed memes.
There's something cold about condolences from friends (and from the anonymous beings behind your "liked" pages). I like a good caramel macchiato, but what does it really mean that Starbucks is "deeply saddened?" Not a single one of those comments meant anything to me. How could they? In my mind, it's almost more about jumping on the bandwagon than legitimate sympathy. When a story trends online, everyone has to get in their share, or like, or tumble to show that they are on top of things. That's how these words about the shooting felt to me: cold and half-engaged, like everything else you read on the Internet.
Granted, my emotions are seeping in because the images and words describes a place so real to me. My friends probably mean well, but at the very least, now I do see a downside to social media. When I was walking to the elevator, leaving work early, I just wanted someone to call me and ask how I was doing or if my family was okay. I wanted to make sense of it all in that half-belligerent ramble form that can only happen with those who care about you. It's something I just can't do in 140 characters.
But it also felt cold because back in 1999 when my middle school was on lockdown while 15 minutes away students were running out of Columbine High School, my friends and I had each other -- that real person-to-person contact I've been scoffing at an older generation for critiquing a lack of in my Facebook-obsessed generation. We talked. We worked things out as best as we could in our 13-year-old minds.
Now the prayer requests are on Facebook. A friend from high school shared an image of a ribbon made in the colors of the Colorado flag. That's how we now ask for and give our support: through likes and shares.
It just doesn't feel like enough.
Susan Kemp is a freelance writer based in Birmingham, Ala. She graduated from Rangeview High School in Aurora, Colo. in 2003.