The 21st century is a century marked by radical technological changes, progressive ideals, and relative equality. While it may be remembered for a series of revolutionary changes, it may also be recognized for the desensitization of its society.
The nation has grown to truly become “the land of the free, and the home of the brave”. America has overcome a series of injustices such as slavery, as well as the disenfranchisement of women and people of color.
We have also witnessed the increased acceptance and inclusion of marginalized groups such as those who have disabilities and sexual minorities. The keyword within our analysis of the progression of society is the term relative.
In other words, the positive changes in which the United States has undergone are easy to see in comparison to how negative society once was. It leads one to wonder if this a sufficient measuring apparatus that we should be using? Also, if something is relatively better, is it good?
Paying close attention to the concept of relativity, one will quickly come to find that relativity is defined by a gradient. If one looks at the past as the residence of negativity and the present as the residence of positivity, it is clear to see that as a society we have already been in our worst state.
Collectively we have already dealt with the negative end of this equilibrium of relativity. This is an important observation as it allows one to see the underlying mechanisms that contribute to the desensitization of society.
In order to truly understand how this works, it is imperative to understand the process of desensitization. By definition, desensitization is “the diminished emotional responsiveness to a negative, aversive or positive stimulus after repeated exposure to it”.
Within the case of21st century America, this negative stimulus is our exposure to adverse situations and phenomena. At the turn of the century, America underwent the emotionally deleterious effects of the Ground Zero terrorist attacks. Within this century alone, the nation has faced a wide range of disheartening events such as The Boston Marathon Bombings, the Pulse nightclub shooting, and much more.
As a result of these events, society has grown weary and we have collectively underwent a sensory overload of sorts. Our nation has simply experienced a shock to our collective system that has now rendered us unfeeling.
With this being said, it leads one to wonder how this manifests in Millennials and Generation Z. The answer is quite simple, this desensitization comes as a result of cultural immersion. Millennials and younger generations share one thing in common. These generations were born near the turn of the century and after.
In the first year of the millenium, one of the biggest tragedies America has ever witnessed occured, 9/11. During this time, America’s philosophy of rugged individualism was traded in exchange for one of collectivity.
This event also acted as a massive shock to our nation’s system. On a psychological level, it may have prompted society to become subconsciously numb. It is also important to note that the attitudes of the former generations will inform the attitudes of future generations.
With the influx of technologies such as computers, cell phones, and digital media, a subtle air of numbness manifested within younger generations. These generations found an outlet to escape the negative phenomena occurring around them.
These technologies were also created by those who witnessed the 9/11 terrorist attacks when they were old enough to understand it. Subsequently, gaming is often primarily centered around tragedy, gore, and violence. One of the most successful games, Call of Duty which is a first person shooter game with a military based framework has been played by millions of people. It appears as if these games are made in an effort to allow people to feel more powerful.
These people are often part of younger generations. Sometimes these games can act as a catalyst for our cultural numbing. Michelle Renee writing from the Huffington Post reflects on this phenomenon of cultural numbness stating that she feels “a sudden surge of sadness at the thought of just how desensitized society, and especially our youth, seem to have become to violence, abuse, death and trauma.”
While older generations may have been subconsciously desensitized with the events at Ground Zero, younger generations are being affected by a more violent and less PG culture. Older generations are more privy to watch the news which often displays a host of tragic events.
Younger and older generations scroll through their feeds via various forms of social media and see the horrible events that can and have occured. As a consequence, society has become numb to disaster.
In class it is not uncommon to hear someone say “Oh wow, another person got shot,” after scrolling or “I didn’t know about that, I don’t really watch the news.” These comments are often said in a nonchalant way as a result of a cultural desensitization.
While it is true that society has become desensitized to close to home and broad phenomena, the effects can be reversed. In order for this to happen, it is important to reflect on the importance of things that appear to be trivial on a similar level as things that appear to be significant.
The idea of appearance must be stressed as a subject’s importance is subjective. It is this subjectivity that makes a murder horrific to one person and relatively minor to another person. So next time you hear of a tragic event, make sure to allow yourself to react. Everyone’s life is important and everything matters to a degree; do not underestimate that degree.