By ANDREW C. REVKINThat REM lyric has come to mind several times in recent days as the occasional friend or Dot Earth reader has described the spate of devastating floods, heat waves and fires, giant icebergs and other disruptive events as a sign that some momentous unraveling is beginning.
In one such conversation, I mused on whether this perception, in fact, is simply the result of the global media and World Wide Web distilling all of human existence into a super-concentrated 24/7 digital elixir of alarm. After all, in 1929, the last time the Indus River had floods as devastating as those experienced in recent days, this is what the news looked like (in The Times at least):
Researchers in the social sciences have explored the relationship of media exposure to attitudes and fears before, with the answer being a qualified yes, as in this 2005 study, “News Media Use and Perceptions of Global Threat.” I’ve sent out a query to a batch of scientists working on this question and will report back. Some commentators have posited that humans have what almost amounts to a deep-rooted desire for apocalypse that shapes our reactions to events and warnings.