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Our 90-Second Culture

Salena Zito on

A lot can happen in 90 seconds.

In 2013, it took the flight attendants on Asiana Airlines Flight 214 only 90 seconds to evacuate nearly 300 people off of a plane that had crashed at San Francisco International Airport -- despite their personal injuries and the flames and smoke in the cabin.

In February 2016, a high school senior named Jessica Fitzgerald saved her co-worker's life at the pizzeria where they worked when he went into cardiac arrest right after a pizza delivery. She pulled out her cellphone, dialed 911 and started performing chest compressions. From the moment she picked up that phone and found no pulse to the moment she detected a faint pulse after she started CPR, she had saved his life.

In a minute and a half, lives can be saved. And in that time, the headlines show us again and again, lives can also be shattered.

We have become a culture of the moment. It's not that we live in the moment; it's that we consume moments. And when we take in moments stripped of context, our assumptions and prejudices fill in the blanks.

In late January, it only took 90 seconds of a video of a group of white teenage boys from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky wearing "Make America Great Again" hats for the video to become the symbol of everything that is wrong in America. The video passed from activists to journalists to commentators to the headlines, and the moment became a story.

 

It took weeks for the full story with the full video to come out. That passage of time helped permanently lodge the original, misleading story in the public mind. Once again, the moment became the "truth" and the truth was subordinated.

Last week, a middle school girl in Northern Virginia confessed she was lying to her family and authorities. The girl, who is black, had claimed that three white classmates at her private Christian school cut off her dreadlocks and taunted her looks by calling her hair both "nappy" and "ugly."

The story spread instantly and hit national headlines because Vice President Mike Pence's wife, Karen Pence, is a part-time art teacher at the school. The effort to link Pence to the incident was not subtle. Read the headlines and you would almost believe her teaching there is the reason the alleged attack happened.

In our culture today, a social media post can be considered the gospel truth without any intellectual value.

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Copyright 2019 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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