(Photo: Matt Perrault / Twitter)
The bombings had a troubling sense of repetition. The plumes of pale smoke that rose above the Boston skyline were much fainter than the soot cloud that engulfed Lower Manhattan a decade prior, but the trauma of the day was likely felt more keenly by the rest of the world.
I was at my computer, checking Twitter in anticipation of the Pulitzer Prizes, when I saw some alarmed tweets about two explosions in Boston. Those were followed by a torrent of images: blood-soaked concrete, dazed bystanders and grim authorities. The events played out with a familiarity that echoed the recent shootings in Newtown, Conn. and Aurora, Colo., with an assault of information: facts and speculation, opinions and statements. And, of course, politicizing.
But unlike those prior tragedies, which occurred in previously unconsidered targets, the explosions were almost instantly televised. They had a brand, the 23,000-runner Boston Marathon, which was already saturated with DSLRs and cell phone cameras alike. It seemed that whoever was responsible wanted to send a viral message.
It’s said that humans most fear the unknown. We crave reassurance, rationalization. The stampede for information is hardwired into our psyches as much as it is the currency that flows across our computer screens. There was some catharsis in gathering the bits of data that began emerging, but also a risk of drowning. The engine of our media machine is powerful, but perhaps more vulnerable to chaos, which twists and slices truth into speculation and exploitation.
The full story will undoubtedly be told and retold in the coming weeks before it settles into our memory bank of tragedies. Some media organizations that made bold reports early in the day may be vindicated or ridiculed. What’s less certain is whether it will become another harbinger of fear, or a testament to humanity’s endurance. Either way, we’ll be watching.