Did We Lose Something Along the Way?

Practicing proper grief in the face of progress

Jared Barlament

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One can argue that humankind, as a singular global community for the first real time ever, has felt pass through them most profoundly for the last few years a wave of grief; a sense that some aspect of human life essential to our antecedents got lost in all the dust kicked up in our march to progress. The way we experience grief is painfully obviously different now. Everyone with an Internet connection — being increasingly most people worldwide — experienced COVID twice, through their phones and the 24/7 news cycle as the virus spread elsewhere first and then again as it hit their own communities.

For decades, people have been able to “grieve”, however valid you’d judge their grief, over other far-away population’s misfortunes, horrified from couches glued to TV screens showing scenes of gore and devastation. To them, at least, it feels real; real enough to hang a flag outside their door or make a donation over the phone. But this time, no matter where you lived, you got to see a real-time sneak peek what was coming for your community before it got there. Still, most of us managed to be unprepared. If you’re thinking ahead to the effects of climate change, you’re not alone. For now, however, what’s important is that the pandemic — arguably, national and world news in general — was experienced by the industrialized world in every way, as everything, everywhere, and all at once. The worst misfortunes of the hardest-hit cities were beamed into our eyes all while a lesser version of that same grief ripped through our own homes. If we were lucky, our city or region or state might’ve made global headlines for their infection rates.

I alluded to the movie title only because it provides the best summation of what life today is like. Mystery and adventure are no more. Anything that took effort, ingenuity, and achievement in centuries past is now accessible by the click of a button or the purchase of an overpriced smart-device; that, in turn, has reduced the value of these things (read: any and every thing). And all the worst parts of life — pandemics, natural disasters, wars, unrest, and poverty — are all inescapable to anybody surfing on the worldwide web they use primarily to escape from real life.

In this system, where all that is good has lost its edge and all that is bad is more potent than ever, it’s become clear to people that maybe the march of progress should’ve stopped…

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Jared Barlament

Author and essayist from Wisconsin studying anthropology and philosophy at Columbia University.