Wait, what? America’s short attention span

We have started to lose touch with the magnitude of the things happening in the world and allowed everything to become a blur of bad news.


Mimi Huelster

Americans have become accustomed to tragedy and often become desensitized to horrific news.

It seems like every year there is bigger news to be heard, each event seems to overshadow the last with more reason to be outraged and more calls to action. The United States are often in the middle of the drama but let’s take 2020 for example. The year started slow, with massive wildfires in Australia that affected nearly 3 billion animals and was described by the World Wide Fund for Nature as ‘the worst natural disaster in modern history.’
We then witnessed the world shift into the COVID-19 pandemic where, so far, more than 2 million lives have been lost with countless more soon to fall victim to the disease. Although, COVID-19 is still prevalent and controlling in our lives right now it is often not the main thing on people’s minds to be upset about.
Shortly after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, George Floyd was killed, in our own neighborhood, a black man was murdered for no reason other than a suspected fake $20 bill. The city of Minneapolis both literally and figuratively went up in flames and the country soon followed. The nation saw thousands of protests, marches, and other events to bring justice to not only Floyd but also the countless number of black people and people of color that have dealt with systemic and institutionalized racism for hundreds of years in this country. This push for equality didn’t die out but was often overshadowed in the context of following events.

Every day there is another tragedy, setback, or disaster that requires all of our attention in order to fix.”

COVID-19 continued to have lasting effects on the world with Congress needing to pass the largest stimulus bill in the history of the nation in an attempt to boost the economy after tens of millions of Americans filed for unemployment following the start of the pandemic. In the last week of January 2021, 779,000 Americans filed for first-time unemployment and continued the trend of four times more jobless Americans than this time last year.

Leading up to the election the country seemed more divided than ever, Joe Biden won the presidency but the current president at the time refused to accept the results and called for investigations of the vote counts and ended up finding out that he… still lost! More than just being a bad sport, the former president’s response to the election results shows that he does not believe in the American political system. His supporters are eager to heed every piece of his advice, after the election his narrative guided his supporters to not believe anything the government did or said. Although skepticism is important in any functional society, the former president led his supporters to have no trust in their elected officials.

This lack of trust in the government led to a group of Trump supporters breaking into the US capitol building and toting confederate flags followed by Trump flags around the halls of the nation’s democratic headquarters. The violence at the capitol was found to be a direct result of the former president’s actions and he was impeached for inciting insurrections. It seems as though the peak of the social and political divide in the country is always growing as we continue to see two sides more focused on beating the other for house seats than saving American lives.

From protests to impeachments the country is teeming with breaking news that at any other point in history would take up months of air time for news broadcasters. Every day there is another tragedy, setback, or disaster that requires all of our attention in order to fix. When the next day a new catastrophe occurs we don’t have the time to fix the last one and we are forced to move on. We try to focus on the things that are especially important at that time in order to help as much as possible, but we are overwhelmed by the impossible feat of helping everyone.

Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”

— Late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

In being overwhelmed it can become easy to lose focus and accept the normalcy of devastation. The number of lives lost to COVID-19 stops looking like individuals and starts to look like a red ticker under the news broadcaster on your TV screen. The murder of a black man by a police officer on a power trip fades into the background as hundreds of cases of extreme violence towards black people have continued to occur since that day. The second impeachment of our former president was talked about for no more than a week by the majority of the country because seeing our president try to further the split in the nation was almost expected.

We have become used to every new day carrying a new reason to be outraged, disheartened, or stressed. Every time we see a new and extremely important thing to focus on we stop giving the same importance to those things. We start to lose touch with the magnitude of the things happening in the world and everything becomes a blur. Each time something comes up it seems like people are just as ready to stop talking about it as they are to start. In our accepting disaster as normalcy we have become desensitized to the tragedy in the world around us. It isn’t possible to really choose what causes us to react but if we continue to react to everything in an attempt to give it the same importance as everything else we will eventually start to give nothing any real importance. We must strive to progress but we must also do it in a way that doesn’t lead us towards complete desensitization or else we risk never actually making change. We must acknowledge injustice and catastrophe but we must deal with it as a stand alone, we can’t work on changing everything at once or else nothing will change. The late Supreme Court Justice of the United States Ruth Bader Ginsburg explains this quite eloquently, “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”