Some years back, I wrote a column for Grosse Pointe Today about a developing murder case here in town. The basics: A beloved G.P. woman was found dead, strangled, in the back seat of her Mercedes SUV, which had been dumped in an alley on the east side of Detroit.
Now. Those of you who are journalists, or even fond of crime fiction, already suspect who the killer was. My friend Dustin was my student at the time, contributing to GPToday, and it was him that I contacted to write up a few paragraphs for the site, because I was doing something else and he had already been a staffer for a daily newspaper for some time. He said, “I’m putting on my coat, but you know who likely did this, right? Her husband.”
I agreed wholeheartedly. It looked like a botched body dump that was supposed to look like a carjacking, if you can ignore two big problems: Carjackers use a weapon or maybe simple brute force to get you out of your car. Which they then drive away, that being the point of the carjacking. It takes long long minutes to strangle a healthy person to death, at least three or even longer if you want to be sure. That’s a long goddamn time to spend killing someone whose Mercedes you’re not going to take.
But this being Grosse Pointe, with its pathological fear of Detroit, the hysteria began on Facebook almost immediately.
When are these ANIMALS going to be kept OUT of our communities was only the least of it. It started nuts and built over the course of two days and was well into a third, posts with hundreds of comments about the need for gates, for structural impediments to streets, for more police and, of course, for everybody to carry at least one gun. You know the drill. The crime was discovered on a Wednesday and the hysteria built until Friday, when in the late afternoon the police announced that the victim’s husband was a person of interest in the crime.
The sound of a social-media thread of morons ceasing to talk should make a sound. Like when tires screech into a sliding stop, or a whole flock of quarreling starlings suddenly goes silent.
Me, I wrote a column. I compared the events of the previous few days to “The Enormous Radio,” John Cheever’s fantastic short story which you should read if you haven’t already. (You can get the gist from Wikipedia.) It’s about a woman who discovers her living-room radio is picking up conversations from the other apartments in her building. Within a few days, she learns terrible things about her neighbors and the sorts of things they say in the privacy of their own living rooms.
I concentrated on just this case, but it applies to pretty much everything now. Facebook is just another enormous radio, revealing the bigotries and ignorance of people we thought we knew. I just scrolled through the comments on the Deadline Detroit Facebook page and reflected, for the millionth time, that if regular people got the sort of hate mail journalists get almost every day, most people would walk around in a state of near-nervous collapse, every single day.
No, I don’t have to read it all. But I need to at least keep up with it as part of my job. So I do.
All of which brings me to this story, from Axios, not a favorite news source but whatever, analyzing the “insane” news cycles of 2019. As per Axios, it’s not much of a story, and it contains bullet points for no apparent reason other than they like bullet points, but this right here seemed to be the heart of it:
Why it matters: The chart, based on search trends compiled by Google News Lab, highlights how short the public’s attention span was as the media darted from one big thing to another.
In the era of President Trump and social media, surges of Google interest in the biggest events of the year only lasted about a week before the public’s attention was drawn elsewhere. Some issues, such as the 2020 election and the Mexico-U.S. border, drew more steady attention — but fewer of the dramatic spikes of interest that other topics had.
There’s a chart in the story that’s pretty interesting, too, tracking outrage after outrage through the year.
I’m considering my one-word new year’s resolution in these final days, and considering Disengage. For a journalist, it feels like a betrayal. You have to stay engaged! You have to keep up! But I am honestly exhausted with keeping up. I don’t want to know anything about Baby Yoda. I don’t subscribe to Disney+, I left all things Star Wars behind in, what? Nineteen-eighty-something? Is there a filter I can install, an app of some sort, that will tell me what I want to know, and what I need to know, and maybe surprise me with some things I didn’t know I wanted to know but am now glad I know, without including Baby Yoda? And all the social-media bullshit that goes with it?
I don’t think there is. If so, I would have known about it by now. Because you know, I keep up. I would never have turned off the enormous radio.
I hope your Christmas was everything you asked for. We had a nice time. Watched some movies, opened lots of presents, ate our weight in carbs. I got two cookbooks — Alison Roman’s “Nothing Fancy,” and Mark Bittman’s “Dinner for Everyone.” Both look wonderful. I find myself drooling over the photos of garlicky greens. I hope that means I’m on the road back to dietary temperance.
However, for now, it’s time to walk Wendy. A great weekend to all.