There’s been a very disturbing thing happening with very disturbing frequency lately. Take a look at just a few of the popular headlines from last month:
NASCAR driver Tony Stewart’s car struck and killed a foot-bound Kevin Ward Jr. during a Sprint Cup race in upstate New York.
A nine-year-old girl accidentally killed an instructor after losing control of an Uzzi at a gun range.
The St. Louis Police Department shot and killed 25-year-old Kajieme Powell for stealing a few drinks and powdered donuts from a nearby store.
Terrorist organization and international alliance of assholes, ISIS, savagely beheaded American journalist James Foley in Iraq.
Of course, the tragedy of human death is not new news. Sadly. But what is a bit different today is the degree to which the deaths of others have become increasingly experiential. All of the headlines above were not just news stories — they were videos. Recorded, posted online, ready for viewing and shared. News networks linked to it. Social media networks spread it.
In a way, this demonstrates the duality of media and technology in modern culture today. It can provide people with unprecedented access to new information, but it can also initiate people to new experiences. Turns out, coming face-to-face with real-world death is one of them. What used to be an experience limited to just a few physically-present bystanders is now available to anyone with an internet connection. Death has gone mainstream.
That’s an important distinction for the sake of historical context. After all, the idea of humans dying is as old as humans are. And death has long been a central storytelling element throughout media for millennia (oral tradition, written text, sculpture, painting, etc.). But today, it’s more than just confronting the brutal realities of death — it’s the fact that we now have the capability to witness the moment of death itself. It’s a monstrous shift, in every sense of the word.
In 1969 Eddie Adams won a Pulitzer Prize award for a photograph taken only seconds before the execution of a Viet Cong . Drew Richard’s The Falling Man captured the horrific moments of September 11th. These photographs (and many others like them) have become some of the most enduring images of the past century. But there’s something even more grotesque about the filming of death on video. It’s more immediate, more undeniable. It transforms passive audiences into afflicted eyewitnesses.
There’s probably a great opportunity here to reassess the role of ethics in media today. Or we could underline the explosive popularity of video in regards to web traffic, media monetization and advertising initiatives. But it seems as though the most important piece of this present day phenomenon is the realization that, plain and simple, our technological capabilities have eclipsed our emotional capabilities to cope with them.
In the mid-1960s, Marshall McLuhan prophetically described technology as a “global village” where “electronics and automation make mandatory that everybody adjust to the vast global environment as if it were his little home town “. It’s a poignant metaphor for the present day. And it’s probably pretty accurate, too. It’s just that, now, it’s all starting to hit a little too close to home.
 The New York Times, 2011
 War and Peace In the Global Village, Marshall McLuhan, 2001