ISIS Confronts the American Attention Span
The man kneels in the sand in the bright orange jumpsuit. The executioner stands above him, clad in black in a sickening contrast. His face is invisible but you can sense a menacing snarl. The blade looks incapable of performing the gruesome task at hand.
Most news outlets only show the still image because airing the whole clip would be indecent and needlessly hurtful to the family of the man in the orange jumpsuit. Once the act is done and ISIS sends out the segment to the world, we read about the man in the orange jumpsuit. Who he was, why he was there, who he was trying to help before he was captured, what his poor family did to try to secure his release–all of the details about the death of this pawn in a game no one wins.
Meanwhile, they threaten the next man. The new guy in his bright orange jumpsuit. He is braver than I would be. We learn his name, we hear his story, we meet his family, we hear their desperate pleas.
We reorder our concerns and find the right place for this new trouble and insert it into the list. It ends up below commute traffic and grocery shopping and we feel depressed and removed from all that should matter.
We are universally appalled. Sickened, saddened. Enraged and confused. We care, we really do. But we are impotent. Impotent and forgetful. Impotent, forgetful, and busy. We care, we really do, but not for very long. We move on to the next story. The next horror. The next diversion. We close our laptops and re-engage our families and are overcome all over again by our own full schedules and short attention spans.
We revisit the story long enough to comment on a message board or like a Facebook post, and then back out again. We shut the door to that dark place and go to brighter rooms of the house. Then we get busy and forget.
Meanwhile, the men are out there in their orange jumpsuits. They sit on death row and wait. What are they waiting on? I bet every scenario plays in their heads for every moment of every day. And the men in the black jumpsuits wait, too. The rest of us flit around and knock back worries as they surface, like an endless carnival game.