The Age of Short-Term Grief


A repetitive, thumping alarm breaks you into consciousness. You stretch your hand to the blinding white light from your phone screen. In the first thirty seconds since you’ve opened your eyes, five different colored boxes are begging for your attention. New messages on WhatsApp, new work emails, new tags on Instagram. You’re aware of breaking news by breakfast. We find ourselves immersed in a world of constant stimulus. The knowledge of stories, events, and even tragedies is handed to us on a silver platter at every waking moment. An avalanche of potential suitors for your focus. This environment of persistent stimulation has made us twice as aware yet half as attentive.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. The dark sides of human nature or simple bad luck get the best of us. Every news source, social media page, and conversation revolves around the newest bid for our empathy. A few months ago, the war in Ukraine was at the forefront of public discourse and information. The latest flood of refugees escaping from violence and hardships and the extent of international power politics were on all of our minds. Our screens were covered in blue and yellow and cries for peace.

However, what used to be in pole position for our fixation, has dropped out of our focus. We no longer see daily updates on the advances of this armed conflict. We no longer have these daily conversations and ache from our fellow man’s pain who still lives in fear of survival. Still, this sorrow is eventually replaced by a new wave of the information cycle. A new topic has come to our attention, wallets and hearts. We are in the age of short-term grief.

The avalanche of information has molded our perspectives. The level of abundance has provided us with knowledge and awareness but removed the long-lasting grief and even desensitized us to agony. While the relevance and pain are felt, it’s ultimately just another day in the news. What feels like not long ago, our screens were covered in black squares and calls for racial justice and an end to  systemic violence. The murder of George Floyd reignited a global call for racial justice and the end of police brutality. While this issue is just as relevant today, we’re reading about something else.

The people of Afghanistan are still ruled by the Taliban’s iron fist. The United Nations reports that the Taliban have virtually eradicated women’s ability to participate politically, get an education, practice a profession, and continue their freedom of movement. We all burst with empathy and evoked our freedom fighter spirit. Where is this passion currently? These women are still living as second-class citizens, but it seems like we’ve already scrolled away.

A consistent state of worry where our lives are swallowed by gloom and anxiety is not the desired reality. Each of our pursuits of happiness go on; we can’t let the pains of life anchor us. Nonetheless, while we must continue our lives, we need not forget the fights worth fighting and the people who need our help. Calls for action, change, and accountability must be persistent. According to Google Trends, Schema and Axios (2018),  the typical trending news story lasts for one week before we advance to the next dilemma; we must not allow our efforts to be halted by our diminishing attention spans.

With 89.3 million forcibly displaced people worldwide (UNHCR, 2022), the highest economic inequalities within most countries in the past two decades (World Inequality Report, 2022), and recent regressions in women’s rights to their own bodily autonomy, we can’t let ourselves forget. The constant berating of information is overwhelming, but we cannot let it minimize our ability to hear, understand, and act.

Featured image by: HuffPost

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