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The Boston bombings and the danger of information overload

Boston marathonThe tragic events in Boston this week have hit hard.

Disturbingly graphic images – of gravely injured people – have flooded social networking sites. Unwittingly I’ve browsed Facebook and seen bloodied, legless people with jagged bone fragments jutting from what once were marathon runners exhausted legs.

The victims’ identities aren’t protected. Their faces contorted in screams are forever imprinted on social media, and on my brain. None of these people have been in a position to approve the use of their face (nor what’s left of their body).

I didn’t go looking. I was just reading up on social networking feeds.

But I did want to follow the events as they dramatically unfolded. Twitter, Facebook, other news aggregators have told story upon story upon story.

In days long gone, the average person would hear about news via the evening television broadcast and perhaps hourly on radio. If one wanted more information, the newspaper was always on hand. But now, I can gasp, hand to mouth, by logging multiple times on throughout the day. I can feel the empathy that millions of others feel. For example I can imagine the parents of one of the bomb victims – the eight year old boy – who struggle in hospital with their own life threatening injuries, or I can imagine other victims begging of medical staff to put them out of their misery. I can read about loss of life and limb and put myself in their place. Over and over and over.

The FONK (fear of not knowing) and FOMO (fear of missing out) phenomenon is widely reported where social networking is concerned, but what concerns me is how much we are traumatising ourselves by what we choose to click on in times of global crisis or tragedy.

The amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for emotional regulation. For sufferers of post traumatic shock, the amygdala enlarges and literally floods the brain with panic responses. Left untreated, the sufferer’s brain is flooded any time of day or night. And it literally changes the brain chemistry.

For those of us logging on in heartfelt response to Boston, or a dramatic murder such as the woman in India, we are initiating this response in our brain, albeit on a far smaller scale. But by doing it so often of a day, it wears our poor brains down.

If the average person can unwittingly expose themselves to trauma just by surfing the web, pregnant women or new mothers are particularly vulnerable. To stay open during these times also means your filter isn’t as effective.

Whether you are in this boat or just the average bear,  we need to be mindful in this age of information overload. Why not choose to not watch the news for a week? Or reduce your viewing habits on social networking sites. If the FOMO or FONK  niggles at you, be aware that you won’t miss out. if you want to know more, ask a partner or friend. I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to share.

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