From Frankenstein to the Titanic, history is littered with fictional and real dramas and tragedies involving technology.
But the digital age, with its attendant high speed interactive hardware, visual imagery, and global linkage, has brought us a whole new kind of cultural and media phenomenon, something very bit as frightening as a plot by Mary Shelley: the technotragedy.
The late 90s have been littered with technotragedies: the Gulf War, the O-J. Simpson trial, the crash of TWA Flight 800, the Unabomber, the death of Diana Spencer, and the murder trial of the tabloid culture’s own Mary Poppins, Louise Woodward. All are old stories presented in radically new ways.
Technotragedies begin with a dramatic event, and vivid images associated with it. It helps if murder, mystery, or conspiracy are involved. When the staggering mass of old and new media technologies—print, radio, TV, cable, talk radio, satellites, the Net, and the Web—kicks in, these stories quickly become the information world’s equivalent of an F-5 tornado.
Broadcast instantly and globally, stories like the Wood ward and Simpson trials and Diana’s death cause different information cultures—mainstream and tabloid journalism, print and electronic, interactive and passive—to fuse and focus an unprecedented amount of attention on a single story, continuously, for days and weeks on end. The story mushrooms, sucking up everything around it and taking on a life and power of its own. We are confronted with more information about a single subject than can possibly be lucid, coherent, or even digestible. Cable channels, stuck with many hours of airtime and little new information to fill them with, scramble for “experts” who present and argue these stories as if they were vast global sporting events. And as the Woodward case revealed, it’s no longer just major news that ignite these firestorm. Increasingly, regional stories are given the same intense international attention.
Yet for all the coverage, our understanding of the underlying issues, class, child care—rarely grows. And technotragedies can sometimes be dangerous.
In the weeks following the TWA Flight 800 crash, every conceivable conspiracy theory, terrorist plot, and paranoid suspicion about the government and tis investigators was uncritically repeated, and flashed all over the world around the clock. Yet investigators now conclude that there was no evidence of foul play at all.
And remember the worldwide uproar against the hapless photographers reported to have been responsible for Diana’s death? Only after the story died down did we—those of us particular attention to the inside pages of newspaper—learn that the photographers played no role in her death, that they were following far behind her speeding car when it crashed, that they did call for help, and that they didn’t interfere with rescue efforts.
Technotragedies can undermine poetics as well as unsubstantiated theories spread, controversies arise, and scapegoats get singled out, often in a climate of unfiltered hysteria. Journalism, the institution charged with offering us a clear and truthful petite, now morphs into a new kind of electronic mob, transmitting distortions instead of correcting them, pursuing revelation over truth, pathos over reason.
As a culture, we have yet to learn how to cope with the changes. As these stories become red-hot, we have to stay cooled. As emotional imagery is beamed at us from every direction, we need to stay detached. As vast amounts of information, opinions, and imagery rain down on us via talk shows and web sites, we have to learn how to be skeptical and patient. We have to grasp the ironic reality that, in an era when stories come to us faster than ever, the truth, if it comes at al, is apt to arrive slowly.
26. What does the writer of the passage mean by “technotragedy”?
A) A tragedy in the modern age.
B) A tragedy brought about by modern technology.
C) A tragedy caused by the new media technology.
D) A tragedy that became the focus of attention for days and even weeks on end.
27. What can we learn from the media coverage of Diana’s death?
A) It helps us understand the events as they unfold.
B) It helps the Police in the investigation of the accident.
C) It confused the audience rather than inform them.
D) It often leads to mere tragedies.
28. According to the author, what does technotragedies do to journalism?
A) They enrich journalism.
B) They strengthen journalism.
C) They destroy journalism.
D) They pollute journalism.
29. What is the writer’s advice to us concerning the media
A) Wait till it gives truthful account of the events.
B) Don’t be too ready to trust it.
C) Turn a deaf ear to it.
D) Grasp the underlying issues of our time.
30. What is the tone of the passage?