War and apathy: A modern dilemma


By Shivam Sharma

A lot has changed in my brief twenty-one year sojourn on this wonderful paradox of a planet. But what remains constant, which has had a dominating influence on our modern history, is one seemingly inescapable invention of our species — war. 

The advent of the Internet and social media means we are never more than a click away from learning about the most pressing international conflicts. In the past year alone, we have seen civil war in Syria, the geopolitical mess that is the Ukraine-Russia border, the atrocities committed in the Islamic State, and the dire crisis in the Gaza Strip, just to name a few.

I find it astounding that the average college student today, me for example, can readily access and discuss death tolls, political strategies and even solutions related to these issues. Reddit, Twitter and Facebook provide a large platform for us to expand the conversation, an ability that we have acquired only in the last few decades.

But, does this knowledge and widespread discourse mean that we are any closer to influencing these conflicts than we would have been, say, twenty years ago? Does our voice on the Internet hold any weight or value? I don’t think so.

Living on campus, in a land of endless promise and opportunities, far away from several of the harsh realities that surround us, it can be difficult to relate to a horrific massacre or forced occupation of territory halfway across the world. And although we might not completely understand, we can sympathize. Usually, we’re inclined to reflect on all that we take for granted.

Personally, having never encountered a full-fledged war environment, I feel like I’m trying to comprehend something that I will never be able to fully identify with. No experience of mine so far has ever come close to the death and destruction of war. 

But the beauty of the human mind and the consequence of the technological age is that I inevitably find myself thinking about these issues. I am terrified by the senseless loss of human life, and I can empathize with all those souls fighting for survival. I’m sure others exposed to these tragedies on social media feel the same. 

I am furious at my inability to affect any sort of change. I feel torn and powerless. 

And so I go online, and I read and I argue. I tweet, and I comment. I vent out my frustrations about how messed up the world is. 

Then, I go take a dip in that pool of apathy in the backyard of my mind. An apathy born out of distance, out of incomprehension and out of a need to, well, go on with my life.  

I desensitize and I move on. 

Different issues, same vicious cycle. In the end, I never make a real difference.

After a while, every news piece just becomes a distraction from the homework that is due tomorrow, fodder for a stimulating conversation or topic for an interesting paper.

And so, I believe the Internet has put us in a unique position. Forced to grasp seemingly unrelatable phenomena, we face a choice — to act or to appeal to our innate apathy.

Usually, apathy triumphs. And that makes sense. 

Technology has given the average person the tools and the platform to voice concerns and let out grievances related to war and other worldly catastrophes. Excruciatingly, though, it provides people a means without an end. The harsh truth is that the involvement of most, however deep, has absolutely no impact on the events that will follow so far away from them.

It is chastising, then, to have means and no influence. But maybe it is our responsibility to create the end. As children of the Internet, we are empowered with the information and the tools to give weight to our voice. And we must find a way to exert our power.

But before we can do that, before we can even think of a way to do so, we must fight our apathy.

We wouldn’t sit idle if the atrocities we read about happened in our own backyard. Our distance may isolate us and make us feel inadequate, but the cost of a human life is the same in every corner of the world. In those moments when we are thankful for our good fortune, mustn’t we spare a brief one for all those struggling to survive? Today we are closer as a globe than we have ever been in our history.

We are obligated then, humanly and morally, to use this to our advantage. To make a difference. To save a life.

It is our apathy that we must fight first. 

Shivam is a senior in Engineering. He can be reached at [email protected].