Monday, July 8, 2013

Asiana Airlines, and What Media Does to Our Souls

It was undeniably tragic, and tragically avoidable.  The recent crash of an Asiana Airlines 777 at San Francisco Airport left me, briefly, worried over whether anyone I might know from the Korean American community might be involved.  At my old church, folks would shuttle back and forth to visit family during the summer.  Hearing that a flight from Seoul had gone down, I immediately thought of those I know who might have been on that flight.  Some were, in fact, returning from Korea that very day through SFO...but were on other flights.

Though the loss of those two lives and all of those injuries was tragic, I confess I'm relieved so few among the passengers were killed.  Thank God for the gifts of the engineers who designed that airframe.

What's also been striking, though, is how our focus on new media has shaped some responses to this.  On Twitter, of course, there were those who took the opportunity to make jokes about "Asians and their driving," utterly oblivious to the fact that they were doing so publicly and in the potential presence of, you know, human beings.

Among my plugged in Asian friends and acquaintances, both Korean-American and otherwise, there was horror at the callousness of these strangely blighted souls.  Human beings died in a tragic, frightening accident...and you think it's time to be stupidly snarky and racially belittling?  Lord have mercy.  New media can do that do us, allowing us to be blind to all but ourselves and our own self-interested belching into the electronic void.  We've always been that way, particularly if we're isolated in our own communities, but that human predilection seems only deepened by our cybernetic self-siloing.

But there was something else that caught the ear of my spirit, something that was not racist at all, but felt strangely telling.

It was in the video of the accident, caught by an aviation enthusiast who watched in horror as the plane hit.  His reaction, caught in the audio, was first casually noting that the plane's attitude as it came in was off, and then clear and mounting horror as the aircraft tumbles wildly on impact.

But there was another voice on the audio, a woman's voice.  The plane hits, and the videographer exclaims that it's crashing, and the voice comes:

"Oh you're filming it too."  And again, a second or two later, "Oh my God you're filming it."

This is, of course, true.  He was filming it.  But that this is the thought that rose to be vocalized at that moment seems interesting.  Here in front of you hundreds of people may be dying.  The crash did look horrible, bad enough that it seems miraculous that so few were killed.

And yet the reaction is to note that it is being recorded.

It is not, I will note, an alien response.  In this distributed media age, "catching" a moment like that is a big deal.  It is a significant part of how we now think, and how we orient ourselves.  I know that feeling myself, so I understand her reaction.

Yet it leads me to wonder, again, whether media can in some ways distance us from the reality of others more than it connects us.