The News In Brief (or The Irony Of Twitter Trending Determining What We Forget)

Remember Grenfell Tower? No, GREN-fell. No, that’s Game Of Thrones! It’s G-R-E-N. Grenfell. Remember, it’s that London tower block that went up in flames in June, with the final number of fatalities still unconfirmed? You must remember?

I know, it seems like years ago, doesn’t it? Or does it just seem like years since we last thought about it?

Back in July, exactly a month after the fire, I wrote a somewhat cynical reply to the overwhelming public response to Grenfell. My main observation was how disproportionate it was relative to the scale of other disasters that have impacted hundreds of thousands of people at a time.

Not that it’s a competition, of course.

Without negating the unimaginable horror of what happened that night, I conjectured that saturation social and news media focus had stretched the initial overblown response to breaking point—relative to similar responses to other ‘of the moment’ issues—and that it couldn’t possibly endure for more than another month at most.

That post languishes in the Matt’s Old Man Rants drafts folder to this day; even ranty old men sometimes think twice about publishing at what could be actual “too soon?” moments.

Yes I know, how unlike me to engage a hackneyed word-meme. I must’ve been genuinely concerned.

But seriously, when was the last time you saw anything about Grenfell? When was the last time you gave a second thought to the countless residents who were almost certainly burned to death in their own homes, some of whose remains are still unidentified nearly six months later?

What about all that noise on social media—”justice for Grenfell”, they cried, loud and often, for what felt like weeks on end. Then it just seemed to stop.

Or the charity single that went to #1 in the UK (and which, tellingly, only lasted a single month in the charts)? Do you remember what it was called? Did you ever even hear it?

Do any of us remember much about the aftermath of that horrendous night? Of course we don’t. Appallingly, it’s become yet another ‘topic of the moment’, in an age when the ceaseless cycle of news and pointless social media noise gives five seconds of fame to virtually anything and a week, two tops, to the issues that get the most raucous response. As opposed to “the biggest issues”—these are mutually exclusive concepts in the ‘of the moment’ era.

That’s what the world’s come to: the significance of any event is determined by how it trends on Twitter. Result? Tragedies like Grenfell get the same airtime (if they’re lucky) as the Kardashians, Taylor Swift, assorted celebrity spats, a new Ed Sheeran release, an Adele concert, cat videos and last night’s episode of Masterchef. Then, along with all that other vacuous guff, it all just evaporated into the ether. Gone. Forgotten.

…or do you actually remember Grenfell’s Twitter hashtag?

Remember the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester? It was only five-and-a-bit months ago, but don’t worry—nobody else has made a noise about it for about four-and-a-half months either.

Remember that last big riot thingo in that place in America, where the goodies and the baddies at some protest about something or other started attacking each other? My brother mentioned it to me the other day. I had to be nudged to even remember it; I don’t think I ever actually knew the detail. That place was Charlottesville, Virginia and it was only August—less than five months ago.

Remember that island that was decimated by that hurricane, which Donald Trump then went on to say some fairly unflattering things about (no doubt via Twitter)? Struggling to recall? It was Puerto Rico. It was only 3½ months ago. I had to Google it too.

And what about the Barcelona terrorist attack? Remember who did it? Or how? Or why? It was also just 3½ months ago. I had to Google this one one too.

Remember the last big shooting in the U.S.? They seem to’ve become so commonplace that we barely register them anymore. Remember who did it? Or where he did it from? No, neither do I, not really. That was only two months ago.

The deafening roar of disproportionate short-lived reactions.

Meanwhile, here in Australia housing affordability, energy prices and our dodgy big four banks have all had bursts of attention this year, along with the inevitable short-term confected outrage that comes with any significant level of social media focus.

How about all that hoo-haa about our politicians’ dual citizenship statuses? You reckon anyone gave a single shit about it beyond the end of the first day of the first big reveal? Considering all the issue has done is repeatedly highlight a gaping hole in what should be a basic standard admin procedure, it’s already had way more airtime than it ever should’ve been given.

Looks like the so-called ‘voluntary assisted dying’ debate is next cab off the rank. I guess it’ll have the limelight as and when it reaches the parliaments of each state and territory, meaning it’ll happen at least another five times. This could carry on for years, no doubt leading to inconsistencies of policy that simply shouldn’t exist in a country with only six states and territories.

At least the seemingly endless marriage equality debate has precedents—indigenous, the disabled, women—that all seem like inevitable and necessary social change in hindsight, but which have all been polarising topics in their own times.

But the rest of this stuff… it’s little more than the endless noise that engulfs the modern world every single day. Oh the irony: our repeated intense focus on issues ultimately leaves us with virtually no detailed recollection of any of them!

At least now I feel vindicated about my cynicism over the Grenfell Tower response.

Plus, it makes me feel better about not remembering what I did yesterday, let alone six months ago.