Bystander apathy in the digital age

I don’t usually grab a copy of Metro, the free newspaper, when I catch the subway in the mornings, but today, I impulsively took one on my way up the steps…and soon wished I hadn’t. Page two featured a story entitled, “Samaritans pull woman from tracks.” An inspiring headline, to be sure! Anthony McBurney and Patrick Collazo, the two men who rescued Faith Biagas while she was trapped on the tracks of the L line on Wednesday night, are heroes. But then I kept reading…and got to this part: “some [onlookers] snapped cell phone pictures of the injured and moaning woman, Collazo said. Others left the station.” It’s an innocuous little line, buried several paragraphs down…when it should probably be the whole point of the story: “Samaritans pull woman from tracks as ASSHOLES DO NOTHING.”

I’m so appalled I can’t even wrap my brain around it. People stood around and took cell phone photos. Have we truly become so disconnected from reality that seeing a woman in danger inspires people to whip out their goddamn iPhones and start snapping? What causes this kind of bystander apathy? What leads to this sense of, “it’s not my responsibility to help” or “if I walk away, it’s not actually happening”? But you know what, it’s not even willful ignorance…it’s actually a kind of desensitization: viewing an injured woman as an object to be captured on film instead of helped. It has been 46 years since a Queens neighborhood shut their doors, their ears and their eyes, to Kitty Genovese’s murder, and it seems as though all that has changed is that someone would probably upload footage to YouTube before the cops even arrived at the scene.

And, okay, I know there are plenty of good Samaritan stories out there. That these two men jumped down to the tracks and dragged the woman to safety is representative of that. But all I can think is, “What if?” What if they hadn’t been there? What if all this person had to depend on were the gawkers and the people rushing off to catch a bus so they wouldn’t be inconvenienced by a possible death?

It’s gross. It makes me ill. But it also makes me think…what would I have done had I been there? When push comes to shove, am I an asshole or am I a hero? That’s a question I honestly hope I never have to answer.

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2 thoughts on “Bystander apathy in the digital age

  1. I’m not surprised that people were just standing around doing nothing or snapping photos. In the 1960’s, a woman named Kitty Genovese was murdered in her Queen’s apartment and everyone in the building heard her screams, but did nothing. I’ve seen little old ladies fall down and people have just walked by rather than help. I’m glad however to see that Chivalry is not dead, that there are still good people around.

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