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Colorado shooting: How Americans deal with media-driven events

For better and for worse, society today is driven by sophisticated and powerful information technology that allows us to know details about everything virtually immediately. The latest example: the Colorado shooting rampage.

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Two women embrace as they leave the memorial service for Gordon Cowdon at Pathways Church in Denver Wednesday. Mr. Cowdon was killed in the shooting rampage at a Denver-area screening of the latest "Batman" movie.

Rick Wilking/Reuters

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As everyone from politicians to parents of slain children search for answers in the Colorado shooting, many observers say the high-profile event is just the latest example of both the progress and problems in dealing with violent, media-driven events.

We live in a society driven by increasingly sophisticated and powerful information technology that allows us to know details about everything virtually immediately, says  UCLA assistant professor and psychiatrist Dr. Reef Karim, adding, “and this has a good and a bad side.”

Cell phone video clips from the Aurora movie theater provided a nearly instantaneous real-time window into events as they unfolded. Television coverage has blanketed everything from Monday’s court appearance by shooting suspect James Holmes to the personal stories of the victims and survivors.

Comfort in response to the shootings in Colorado

The positive side of such immediate, up-close contact, he says, “is that we collectively can respond as a society, we can send money and relief and bring people in to help because we can relate right away.” 

The downside, he says, “is that we are seeing it all through the lens it is being presented to us in.” This means we are being drawn through the event according to the biases and prejudices of the technology and the people behind it.

“By and large,” he points out, “these media are driven by ratings and the need to attract the largest audience,” not educate or uplift them.

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