As millennials, we have been dealt a unique set of cards that shapes the moves we make in our daily lives. There are two specific cards that I wish to discuss in this column: technology and terrorism. While I intended the focus of this piece to discuss the rising degree of health consciousness our generation exhibits, a breaking news update that I received on my phone early Monday morning inspired a change in theme. The headline read as follows: “Las Vegas Shooting Leaves at Least 50 Dead, More than 200 Wounded” (Wall Street Journal). The shooting occurred late Sunday evening at a country music concert and involved a gunman firing what witnesses described as an automatic weapon from the 32nd floor of a nearby hotel into the concert crowd. With 59 dead and 527 injured, this tragedy marks the deadliest shooting in the United States, exceeding the 49 deaths that resulted from the June 2016 Orlando shooting.
Scrolling through the press briefs and political tweets identifying the gunman and acknowledging the dozens of families affected, I had a sinking feeling that this felt familiar and routine. Whether the weapon is a plane, a truck or a gun, it’s all terrorism and it’s all we know. At six-years-old, I watched two planes crash into the World Trade Center on TV. At 14-years-old, I saw images of police cars surrounding Sandy Hook Elementary School. At 17-years-old I watched footage of a cloud of smoke suffocating runners and spectators at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. And now, at 22-years-old, I watched videos of friends and families scrambling for their lives, groups of strangers coming together to carry and attend to the injured and brave police officers directing terrified concertgoers to safety. I was left with so many unanswered questions: “Where do we go from here? How does my generation address and control such unpredictable violence?” Yet those questions were consumed by one unshakable sound that still echoed in my head: the sound of the automatic gunfire from blurry iPhone videos. We’ve come to a point where we can no longer afford to leave these questions unanswered.
Technology is a double-edged sword. Footage and tips submitted by witnesses can undoubtedly save lives because they supplement ongoing investigations and effectively expand our nation’s protection program beyond those explicitly in uniform. While technology allows us to be alert and informed, constant access to information can also be paralyzing. History teaches us that overstimulation by uninterrupted and pervasive imagery has the power to shape an entire generation. Admittedly, it has dictated my fears, shaped my habits and made me question my bravery, and I know I’m not alone.
We are incredibly lucky, as Americans, to be allowed access to a vibrant social culture. Churches, concerts, marathons and movie theaters are all spaces that allow us to celebrate our values, beliefs and preferences and create shared experiences that bridge ethnic, racial or gender differences. The acts of terror committed in any space in our nation have robbed us of this social freedom. What we must do now, as millennials, is find a way to take back this freedom. We must take back the power to feel safe in social spaces. We must eliminate the fear that prevents us from living. We must acknowledge how powerful technology and social media really are and use them to inform at a healthy level, not overwhelm to a breaking point. We must learn how to play with the hand we’ve been dealt.
Contact Jackie Dowling