On Reaction

Last night, after dinner, we sat and watched things continue to unfold. They'd been unfolding all day, but now, in darkness, there was a sense of urgency. Everything accelerated, like an unmanned vehicle going down a hill. We each had a laptop. BBC in the background. News sites being refreshed. Twitter. People, some of whom we know, posting photos and videos and sound clips and updates. People posting false information, too (reports of looting on the Cowley Road in Oxford were greatly exaggerated, for instance: that is to say, there was absolutely no unusual activity on the Cowley Road in Oxford at all). Information overload. Is this a good thing? I never know. I do know that we knew more about what was going on in London from our home in Oxford than we would have known if this had happened 10 years ago and we had lived in London.

So I wonder how our long-term impression of events will change because of the way our short-term perception and consumption of them has changed.

***

Again we ask for prayer, say our thoughts are with people in places we aren't. There's a certain futility to this. Everybody has something to say, but is it always worth saying something?

I don't mean that people should not speak, that we should censor ourselves or limit our reactions. But when I sit down to write about this, I feel distant and impotent. I think: I should have said something sooner, I should have reacted instantly, already the time for speech of the sort I want to make has passed, already we are moving on, collectively, talking about it in new or different ways. But part of me, the part of me that doesn't move at internet speed, that moves at human speed, is still back there, still formulating thoughts and opinions based on what I've seen, even if it's secondhand, thirdhand.

In many ways immediacy is important. But if you aren't there, real time updates have a different meaning. The impact of information changes based on geography, proximity. Hysteria is contagious, but context cannot so easily be transmitted.

***

There's something here about inhabiting a city, too, isn't there? About what it means to live in a place, to make it (and un-make it) a home. Sometimes we forget - or I forget, anyhow - how much of a place is its people. I tend to think of community and place as separate, though overlapped. It's easy to be preoccupied by architecture, by maps, by landscape and history and memory. But the truth is place, home, city, are all living things. And it takes empathy to live in a city, to be part of a place.

***

At about half past one in the morning, I fell asleep slumped over on the couch. Later, in bed, we heard a man wander down our street, shouting at the top of his lungs. "Rama-DAMN you!", he kept saying. I assumed it was unconnected to everything else. You often hear people shouting at this time of night in this part of the city. But it did occur to me, briefly, that perhaps tonight we were readier to listen than usual.