According to CNN, Twitter, Facebook, Google News and CBC, it now appears likely that the 162 occupants of Air Asia flight QZ8501 have perished into the Java Sea; I know because I- along with hundreds of millions of others- have checked these news sources periodically over the last couple of days. Our infatuation with such events is not related to the premature death of the individuals who have died, or the suffering of their family and loved ones. If our cause for concern really was so selfless, the following travesties in the last 24 hours would have occupied a greater portion of our very limited attention:

  • 29,000 children under the age of five died from preventable diseases [1]
  • 13,400 people died from diabetes [2]
  • 2,160 people committed suicide [3]

If you tuned into any sort of media coverage in the last two days, none of these travesties would have graced the lips of news broadcasters because they were not deemed adequately sensational. If we really prioritized our limited attention to the troubles in the world that were in the greatest need of our attention, the 1,500 #AirAsia tweets that reached 18.1 million people would not have been tweeted [4]. This should be a cause of concern for all of us. I can roughly allocate my own typical 24 hours to the following:

  • 8 hours to sleep
  • 8 hours to work
  • 2 hours to cook, eat and clean
  • 1 hour to exercise
  • 1 hour to transportation (point ‘A’ to point ‘B’)
  • 1 hour to reading, watching TV or checking the news

This leaves 3 hours of ‘float’, which is unaccounted for, wasted, or pilfered. I find it troubling that I have consumed an inordinate amount of my time to an occurrence- the crashing of the Air Asia flight- whose outcome is unaffected by my attention. I say this not to belittle the deaths of the passengers and crew, or the very real impact that the currently unknown circumstances causing the plane’s crash has on the confidence of the billion times per year that a passenger boards a commercial flight.

Why do I belittle this occurrence? Because it is statistically inconsequential; certainly not because I don’t grieve for the lost lives and their grieving families- I do. Next Tuesday, I will board a plane in Montreal bound for Victoria without the slightest degree of hesitation greater than the opposite route two weeks prior, on a plane model nearly identical to that which now finds itself on the floor of the Java Sea. I know that aviation authorities will learn from the errors that led to the planes demise, and incorporate the necessary changes to pilot training and best practices. These changes do not rely on my attention via media outlets. The airline companies and pilots- via their professional pride and obligations- will react and adapt. The scale of changes they implement will not be proportional to the inordinate amount of attention people pay via the media.

Whenever a sensational occurrence captivates our attention, let us ask if our time expended following the story will have any real impact on the outcome of those affected. Be mindful of the notion that our capacity to have concerns for others- both emotionally and in the amount of time we have to spare- is finite. Let us instead focus our energies on avenues where our attention can make a difference. Those 29,000 children that died today from preventable diseases? Take some time to learn about it. Your friend who has been packing on pounds and neglecting their diet? Get them out for a walk. And that loved one who you know darn well suffers even the slightest twang of mental illness? Just check in. #AnythingButAirAsia.


[1] UNICEF, Millennium Development Goal No. 4: Reduce Child Mortality, http://www.unicef.org/mdg/childmortality.html

[2] International Diabetes Federation, Diabetes Atlas, http://www.idf.org/diabetesatlas

[3] Suicide.org, International Suicide Statistics, http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-statistics.html

[4] Hashtracking.com, Analytics for #AirAsia hashtag as of December 31 2014, https://www.hashtracking.com/explorer/?hashtag=airasia

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