Mass shooting trend corresponds to invention of internet

In the past two weeks it’s seemed like we’re witnessing the start of another shooting season.

Unfortunately we’re not talking about deer, ducks, wild turkeys or target shooting. Instead it’s an unpredictable set of mass shooting incidents with multiple casualties.

The Buffalo, New York shooting happened at a grocery store in a black neighborhood and involved a shooter who traveled 200 miles. The Uvalde, Texas shootings at an elementary school were committed by a hometown individual. Both shooters were teenagers.

There have been calls for more gun control laws, which should be carefully evaluated. Since we’ve had firearms for centuries, I’ve wondered if weapons are really to blame.

What we didn’t have until about 1995 is the Internet. It’s had a transforming effect on daily life, one that’s led most people to spend sizable amounts of time working with electronic gadgets.

Some futurists in the 1990s predicted that computer based virtual reality would become a major part of reality for almost everyone.

They were right. We often see people out in public who are glued to mobile devices. They’re paying less attention to their physical surroundings for the opportunity to have a virtual experience.

More time is spent focusing on things. Less time is spent interacting with the real, face to face world.

We have to ask ourselves if that’s mentally and socially healthy. On a screen there’s less opportunity to pick up on verbal and semantic cues. It can create barriers to mutual understanding.

We’ve seen that there’s potential for people who vent their anger on the Internet to turn dangerous. The Internet seems to make them feel empowered. Part of the motive behind such actions seems to be to make a statement to the entire world.

No one a generation ago expected this dark side. Everyone welcomed the Internet when it was introduced in the 1990s as the Information Superhighway. It promised a vast amount of access to facts and ideas.

Maybe there hasn’t been enough of a public investment to make that vision come true. Perhaps the Federal Communications Commission should grow to 10 times its current size for the purpose of licensing websites and reviewing their content.

It would help if website coordinators could have a way to get a federal stamp of approval. People would have more of a way to evaluate what’s reliable and what isn’t. We’d know what meets standards of decency and what doesn’t.

Questions should also be asked about how to introduce children to the Internet, and how to monitor their online activity.

Maybe we shouldn’t even expose kids to computers and mobile devices until they’re 12 years old. Maybe they shouldn’t have unsupervised use of the Internet until they turn 18.

We might not have to be quite that radical, but the computer should be regarded as a powerful machine that needs to be respected. Oversight and guidance from adults is necessary. We need to approach computers with the same guarded respect that we apply to guns, power tools, cars and alcohol.

When kids begin to fly solo online, they should be able to draw from life experience in a way that makes them think critically about which sites to follow. That makes them less likely to be misled, and less likely to use mass media in destructive ways.

The computer in the end is just a very complicated tool. It should enhance reality rather than replace it. There needs to be enough of a foundation in the real world, enough to allow us to use the Internet instead of letting it consume us.

— Jim Muchlinski is a longtime reporter and contributor to the Marshall Independent


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