Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Friday, 1 October 2010

Lord of the Flies caught on camera

We're all going to Hell in a handcart, and the sign on the front says 'Facebook'.

The indications have been out there for a while - Jordan posting pictures of her infant daughter tricked out in lipstick and mascara, for instance, or the jaw-dropping awfulness of  'social networking bingo - and it's set to get worse with the advent of a new system allowing users to find the exact locations of anyone currently online.

And today, there's a horrifying indication of the effect this is having on the young. A group of schoolchildren this week found a dead body floating in a stream near their school - a traumatic experience by anyone's standards, you might think.

But not, it seems, for the children of the media-obsessed 21st century. According to one 16-year-old witness:

'Everyone started crowding around and people had their phones out. We were telling everyone else to shut up because everyone else was trying to take pictures and laughing.’

And as soon as they got home, apparently, they published the pictures on the internet. Photo ergo sum; the ubiquitous phone camera has turned the juvenile population into a pack of amateur paparazzi with a ready-made market for their wares.

The Head Teacher is trying to play this down, saying that one boy took a picture, but deleted it from his phone before teachers spoke to him - an effect somewhat marred by the words of the Detective Chief Inspector:

"I am especially keen to speak to anyone including any school pupils who were at the scene and who may have taken photographs or video footage before the police arrived."

This reassurance may be a necessary one. It's a cliche to say children today have no respect for anyone, but that is surely taking it to new extremes - the schoolboy witness went on to add ‘Some kids were throwing stones at the body'.

Or worse. The man was lying on his back with his head out of the water; the children had no way of knowing for certain that he was dead. In fact, the first teacher on the scene actually went into the river to check for signs of life.

The idea of a generation so inured to death and violence that they not only view a dead or dying man with equanimity but even treat him as a target is a disturbing one; this sort of behaviour is more usually associated with child soldiers or victims of bloody civil war.

But what I find truly frightening is the narcissism of using such a traumatic event to enhance their personal online status.

Update: JuliaM sums it up perfectly in an update to her post on the subject.


  1. Just posted on this too. It was Tweeted this morning. What are we becoming?

    Should we take comfort from the report that some students were crying, or were they perhaps upset that they'd got no charge in their mobiles?

  2. The BBC says 8 pupils have 'taken up the offer of counselling' - not that that's anything to go by.

    Gor the ones who were upset, I should think the sight of the body was less traumatic than witnessing the gleeful reaction of their peers.

  3. This one made me squirm, what is going on in their heads? What kind of mindset have they developed and how? Is it anything to do with the extent and nature of sheer nastiness on TV, Film and Media?

  4. Demetrius, probably; the Urchin is forever asking to watch on TV films that, to our eyes at least, suggest a Tourette's Anonymous meeting in an abattoir.

    Meanwhile, even though he is not yet allowed most 18-rated computer games, he spends a couple of hours a week conducting depressingly bloody guerrilla warfare.

    O tempora, O mores!