- “Sony wants you to stream your whole life online.”
- “Show off how marvelous your life is.”
- “Stream your world live to Facebook using the ‘Social Live’ camera feature.”
- “Fill YouTube with constant videos of your cat sleeping or your baby dribbling, thanks to the new Live on YouTube app.”
These are actual advertising slogans. If you use social media you’ll know live video streaming is being pushed pretty hard these days.
Facebook has changed its algorithms to ensure live videos appear in your notifications and fill your newsfeed. Sony, Apple and Samsung are falling over themselves to develop the necessary products to make live streaming even easier.
I expect the boffins who decide these things think that video will overtake text as the primary way we share stuff online at some time in the near future.
And of course it’s pitched to us as a way of boasting about our fabulous lives. Post a vid of you arriving at a big concert, or dancing at a music festival, or sailing on the harbor, or singing along to the radio on a road-trip with friends.
Everyone’s life is meant to look awesome online.
Except if it’s not.
On December 30 last year, a 12-year-old girl in Georgia live streamed her own suicide after telling the world that she had been sexually abused by a male member of her family.
The first 20 minutes of the 42 minute video show Katelyn Davis setting up her suicide and talking about her life. She then tells the world, “Goodbye” and removes the bucket she’s been standing on.
The gruesome video ends with Katelyn hanging from a tree in front of her home.
For 20 minutes.
Investigations later revealed that Katelyn had been writing a blog titled “Diary of a Broken Doll.” In it she revealed the identity of her abuser. She also expressed suicidal thoughts. She said she was depressed. She described the poverty her family endured.
There’s such a vicious irony to the fact that a girl who felt so alone with her pain could share her life and, worse still, her death so publicly.
But no one was reading the diary of the Broken Doll.
No one cared.
Until the Broken Doll went Live.
Then the world took notice. Far too late.
The diary of the Broken Doll contains sexual assault, child suicide, poverty, loneliness, despair. And it also reveals the horrors of a world where just about anything and everything is videoed and posted online.
When a group of teenagers recently posted a live video on Periscope titled “live sex” the right hand side of the screen was flooded with colorful hearts, indicating likes for the video. After thousands of people had viewed and liked it, it became clear a girl in the video was saying no. She was being raped.
And yet despite all the outrage, nothing changes. For all the videos of police brutality against people of color, nothing changes. This whole story will settle down and Katelyn Davis’ name will be forgotten. She’ll become “that girl who live streamed her suicide a while back”.
Facebook, Sony and YouTube might want us to stream every aspect of our lives online, but instead of increasing our interest in each other, it only numbs us to the realities we observe. The end result seems to be a dreadful stupefying of the viewer, and an eroding of our capacity for empathy.
The more we watch the most horrific and intimate details of people’s lives being streamed the more desensitized to its horror or its intimacy we become. They become no more affecting to us than live streams from our party last weekend. Nothing horrifies us. Nothing is sacred. Nothing means anything.
Not the despair of an abused 12-year-old. Not the death of a black man in a police chokehold. Not the gang rape of a teenager. Not the drowning victims of a tsunami or a shell-shocked Syrian child.
The screen both mediates their suffering and ameliorates for us all at once. It’s a medium that we’re told us bringing us together. But I suspect it is driving us all further apart.
And then there’s poor, dear, little Katelyn Davis, the broken doll. God have mercy.