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Bringing us together and driving us apart

The scene from the horrific crash that claimed the life of a 59-year-old Paget man on Middle Road, Warwick (Photo by Akil Simmons)

Bermuda used to be as much a state of mind as a mid-Atlantic micro-state, a community of shared values, shared duties and shared responsibilities.

Helping one another, demonstrating genuine compassion, conviction and concern for our neighbours, was a hallmark of this society, so much so that the Bermudian reputation for friendliness and goodwill became internationally celebrated.

What are referred to as “Random Acts of Kindness” in other countries, prompting raised eyebrows and choruses of gasped surprise on the rare occasions they actually do take place, have been fixtures of everyday life in Bermuda for generations.

In large measure, that still remains the case today. However, it’s becoming increasingly common to find the Golden Rule isn’t so much being honoured in the breach in modern Bermuda as it’s being expunged from our cultural rule book.

The unthinking, unfeeling and uncaring actions of a bystander at the scene of Monday night’s fatal road accident in Warwick provide a prima facie example. He or she managed to do the passers-by in the parable of the Good Samaritan one better in terms of callousness.

Not simply content to detour around the dead or dying victim of a head-on collision between a motorcyclist and a car, the miscreant in question paused to take a snapshot. And then uploaded it to social media.

There are times when mobile phone photographers, text messages and bloggers are indeed citizen reporters for the Digital Age. But this was not one of them.

In this instance it is distressing — not to say more than a little macabre — to think that virtually the first thing a passer-by did after happening upon the accident was to photograph the casualty and then relay the image to Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. Perhaps all three.

This type of ghoulish voyeurism has, of course, become increasingly prevalent since the advent of modern communications technology. As someone once said, unless you are careful, technology can very easily become the art of arranging the world so you don’t actually have to experience it.

This is particularly true when it comes to cell phones equipped with keyboards, cameras and social networking tools. Such devices can create a distancing effect separating you from what you see and, just as importantly, from what you feel.

They can induce not just what might be described as a type of Compassion Fatigue but also a tendency to live life vicariously instead of directly, with ever-diminishing emotional involvement.

A mobile phone provided the bystander at the scene of Monday’s tragedy with a means of not only ignoring the death agonies of another human being but of disseminating them to a vast on-line audience.

Hundreds of Bermuda residents did react with horror, outrage and dismay as the graphic image began to appear on their PCs and hand-held computers.

Hundreds of others, however, casually studied the carnage before moving on to the next stupid meme or family snapshot or adorable pet video on their newsfeeds.

And a handful even shared it, oblivious to the trauma the spread of the photo across various social media platforms would cause the victim’s family, friends and colleagues.

This is not the first time this type of thing has happened in Bermuda. Pictures of murder victims have circulated before the bodies in question have even been formally identified, leading to ghastly on-line guessing games about the name of the latest crime fatality.

And it’s the kind of thing which is likely to occur more and more often in the months and years to come.

We live in an increasingly interconnected but increasingly disassociated world. Just a few months ago, when Middle Eastern extremists began to use the internet to distribute videos of summary executions, the international community reacted with revulsion. Today clips of similar atrocities are increasingly met with yawns. If they register at all.

Familiarity and the law of diminishing returns have the power to rob even the most heart-rending tragedy of its power to move us, to blunt all emotional resonance.

Bermuda, now just another off-ramp on the global Infobahn, is no longer the other world — the world apart — it used to be. We are fast becoming an extension of the same globalised, homogenised and increasingly desensitised worldwide culture which has emerged since the internet went live.

And this likely means the days of Bermuda as a state of mind are numbered. For we too are mastering the unhappy art of arranging the world, including our little corner of it, so we don’t actually have to experience it.