Monday, March 23, 2009

Snapshot of Cultural Decay

I've been following Christie Blatchford for nigh on thirty years, across four newspapers. She's one of the better columnists out there when it comes to humanizing tragedy and questioning the unquestionable...and while her writing can be sentimental to the point of maudlin, she never fails to elicit emotion from her reader...well, this reader, at any rate.

This is one of her better efforts.

Background--such background as is permitted by Canadian law-- here

(Publication bans are commonplace in Canadian courts of law. I'd argue they're overused, and that our soi-disant "justice system" cares more about the rights of criminals than it does about the victims of their crimes, but that's a post, or series of them, for another time.)

After some obligatory griping at how the Web can defeat a Canadian court's best efforts and report things that Christie herself can't, Blatchford launches into a chilling account of the MSN and Facebook messages exchanged by "M.T."--the girl recently convicted of first degree murder in Stefanie Rengel's death--and her boyfriend "D.B.", who allegedly committed the actual murder and who still awaits trial. 

There were an estimated 5000 calls or texts between the two in the four months prior to Stefanie's murder, as well as some 20000 exchanges on MSN or Facebook. I find those numbers almost impossible to comprehend...and yet I'm pretty certain I work with ten or fifteen teenagers who would find them unremarkable.
Christie excerpts the messages completely uncensored, even in the print edition, as if to thumb her nose at the Web and say "look, I can write fuck just like you." I'm going to quote the excerpt here, because I find it at once fascinating and repulsive. 

Bear in mind the respective ages of our conversationalists here. M.T., the girl, is 15. Her boyfriend, D.B., is 17. They've been dating for about ten months.

One last warning: This isn't pretty. On any level.

M.T: brb poop
D.B: kk
M.T: lmaoooooooooooooo
M.T: lmaooooooooo
M.T.: my poop was an 'O'

Charming, isn't it? It's like they're three years old.

Here's another "conversation", rather one-sided:

D.B: brb major peepee
D.B: srry u got mad at you want me to leave you alone forever? M? srry pee turned into a piss and a shit
D.B: u know what? Its okay
D.B. you don't have to talk to me

The scatology aside, this one is what I think of as the prototypical Web exchange. I've been party to more than a few of them myself. Because since the advent of the World Wide Web, it's naturally assumed that we're all available, all the time, and that even a short delay in response must signal that we're angry. And, of course, the definition of short keeps I bet it's down to about ten seconds.

 Now...I'd like all my readers of a certain age to think back to when they were 15 years old. Remember the arguments you used to get into with your parents, the ones concerning the telephone? Remember this line?

"Why do you have to talk to her? You just saw her at school today and you'll see her at school tomorrow."

I can precisely time-stamp your entry into adulthood. It's the instant that makes sense to you. Of course, by that definition, I doubt many of our kids will ever grow up. Because today's teen won't just find such a parental edict grossly unfair...she'll think it unimaginable. I've heard teens--more than one--threaten suicide if their cellphones were confiscated, and I've actually seen a 13-year-old girl, deprived of a Net connection, suffering what for all the world looked like a nic-fit: shaking hands, wandering restlessly from room to room, snapping sullenly at anyone who tried to talk to her.

Look upon what the Web hath wrought, and despair. Now we have Twitter, which allows all of us to communicate every little thing we do in real time, even if all we're doing is sitting on the toilet. My poop was an O.

 Twitter's everywhere: U.S. Congress, NBA dressing rooms, Bay St. offices...everywhere. And for what? So that we can engage in what looks like compulsive connectivity in total isolation, 24/7/365? No thanks. 

Those messages between a girl convicted of first degree murder and a boy who could well be as well...they disturb and disgust me not because they're so obviously infantile, but because that's normal now. If you've got nothing to say, SAY IT LOUD.


Rocketstar said...

I don't get Twittering

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