Op-Ed: Are We Desensitized To News Media?


Hebe Qiang

Newspapers play a big part in desensitization. Cartoon by Hebe Qiang ’23.

Terrorism. It happens every day. Afghanistan averaged five terrorist attacks a day in 2019, or 1,750 total cases for that year. With all of this going on, why don’t we hear about it on the news more often?

It’s because we’ve become desensitized to terrorism. Since the birth of the internet, we’ve had instantaneous access to everything we could ever want in the blink of an eye. We’ve gotten so used to hearing about these terrible things that we subconsciously stopped caring. We’ve forgotten what it means to be human, and it’s not our fault.

Here, we have the luxury of being at a private school in Massachusetts. We don’t have to worry about bombings or shootings because we know that their chances to happen to us are slim. Because of this, we can’t relate to the people we hear about in these tragic news stories, and when we can’t relate to someone else, we can’t understand what they’ve been through.

We do hear about terrorism, we do hear about climate change, we do hear about school shootings. We just hear it so much that its effect has diminished.”

This, on top of the overload of media, creates an ideal mixture for desensitization. This is a problem that’s affecting everyone, including students here like Noah Panto ‘25.

“I guess it makes me nervous. Not as much as it used to, though, but it’s just that so much goes on now,” Panto said. “It feels so far away and distant that it will never affect me, and I mean, while it’s scary, it’s not another thing that I have to worry [about] in my day, which makes it a little less important.”

“When it’s further away, it just seems like, ‘Oh well. That’s not going to affect me or interact with my life.’ Nearby it’s scary because I’m like, ‘God, that could be me. What if I were there.’ It gives more depth to the situation.”

When I hear of another bombing happening in a country such as Afghanistan, I subconsciously ignore it. It’s become akin to hearing that someone has an iPhone in their pocket. In 2007, having an iPhone was a big deal since not everyone had one. Now, 47 percent of Americans own an iPhone. It’s the new normal.

A New Normal

What is normal?

Normal is a changing constant; it’s typical, sometimes expected, and common. Normal is like water; it’s always changing and fluctuating.

“Normal” is something that’s always changing, just like when Apple introduced iPhones back in 2007. Ten years later, the standard–or normal–changed with Apple’s reveal of a bezel-less display. Now, you don’t have to think twice when you see someone pass you with a bezel-less phone.

The same principle takes place with desensitization. You get so used to hearing about terrorist attacks that you stop thinking about them.

Who’s To Blame?

There’s not a single person that could be blamed for this.

Traditional media like newspapers play a big part in desensitization. Amid a daily overload of media, it’s easy to get flooded with an endless number of accounts of terrorism.

Social media is another contributor to desensitization. Social media sites such as Twitter are, in most ways, a modern form of news. Even if such sites are unreliable, they still feed into the pile of data that we receive. Other sites such as Instagram have informational accounts that also feed into the pile, even if they are positive.

With all these things stacking on top of each other, it’s easy to get desensitized. No one person is to blame. We do hear about all these awful things. We do hear about terrorism, we do hear about climate change, we do hear about school shootings. We just hear it so much that its effect has diminished. Desensitization turned the hurricane of awful things into nothing more than light rain.