Our New Media Ecosystem, or: The Attack On ISIS Did Not Take Place

The world we live in today is so very different from the one I lived in as a child. Usually that statement would come from someone much older than I am, having gone through many more revolutions than I, but arguably this revolution is just as terrifying as any. The Internet Revolution has changed everything about our lives, from how we are educated to how we define ourselves, and finally to how (and if) we remain connected to reality. I have grown up in this revolution.

This morning I was going through my usual social media routine checking Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. I got to Snapchat last, and after watching a couple of my friends’ stories I switched over to the Discover area to see if there was anything interesting.

To my surprise, shock, and horror, I saw that one of the featured stories was called “Attack on ISIS, Closing in on Mosul.” Now, if this was an article in a newspaper rather than an interactive Snapchat story I would by no means be appalled. Today we live in a world in which terrorism is constantly premediated in order to keep us in a constant, low level of fear or anxiety about another terrorist attack, supposedly in order to keep us prepared for what is unfortunately very common today. Whether this is something that in fact helps us be prepared, or rather comes with many extreme consequences, is something I will be exploring in my capstone paper later this semester. That aside, back to Snapchat.

For 24 hours Snapchat is running a live story, a curated collection of submitted snaps from the frontline of the attack, to its 150 million daily active users around the world. After doing some research I found out that this is Snapchat’s second curated Mosul story. Some of the Snaps from today’s story include live gunfire, military tanks rolling through barren land, fighters loading rockets, a casket being carried out of a truck and a man sobbing over it and refusing to be dragged away, smoke rising from destroyed buildings, and citizens of Iraq wishing luck to the fighters.

As many as 150 million people, some as young as 12 years old, have the possibility of watching this story. It is the closest civilians have ever come to experiencing war. It is a far leap from the Vietnam “television war” – we are watching what is happening in Iraq from our smartphones. I was watching fighters loading rockets while I sat in my pajamas drinking my morning cup of tea.

More and more people are investing their time and money into simulated realities. What happens when war has become a part of our simulated reality? What happens when teenagers can get a first person view of the front lines of an attack in Iraq from their bed in small town America? This is today’s reality, or lack thereof.

This is the most extreme example of hyperreality that I have experienced so far. According to Jean Baudrillard, our postmodern society has become one made up entirely of representations. We live in a realm of hyperreality; a media-saturated society in which we are unable to distinguish reality from its simulation.

How will we be able to distinguish the reality of war, the death, the violence, the horrors, from its simulated, curated presentation if we are able to watch voyeuristically from the safety of our lives and smartphone screens on the other side of the world? War is being presented in such a way – live, direct, intimate – that the surface is effacing and covering up any possible depth. There is so much meaning that it can no longer remain meaningful.

Does this intimate experience of war compel us to act, to invest more of our interest in putting an end to it all?

“The media has often been acknowledged as having helped end the Vietnam War by bringing its horrors into our living room, making “direct” experience of the carnage a cause for political action” (Robinson)

Does it lose its meaning as the medium triumphs over the message?

“Baudrillard argues that the media strips human dignity from what an audience vicariously experiences; we become fixated on the noise, not the signal.” (Robinson)

We are focused on the spectacle of it all, our ability to send carefully edited 10-second videos of ourselves wishing fighters luck rather than the fact that so many human lives are being lost each one of those seconds.

Does it only continue to propel us into our growing political environment of fear, within which the U.S is dangerously close to electing a perverse, racist, sexist man to become the next President of the United States?