thinking about rss

I subscribe to a lot of rss feeds, and I check my aggregator pretty often. The Bloglines interface has become so familiar to me that I’m lulled by it’s design, easily skimming over stories, marking some to save for later, barely glancing at others. I didn’t really realize how personal a feed reader can seem, though, until the past few weeks. And I’m still trying to figure out how it can feel so much more intimate than visiting a web page, how it can feel almost invasive when something troubling keeps showing up in your feeds, over and over.

I subscribe to about 12 blogs and news sites about New York and Brooklyn, and lately they’ve included a bunch of coverage of a really gruesome rape and torture that happened to a Columbia University student. Of course the story needs to get reported, but what I question is the level of detail that needs to appear, and the way in which it’s framed. Each story mentions that she went against her father’s wishes by moving into what he viewed as an unsafe neighborhood, setting up a sort of she-deserved-it-scenario, which is generally what I expect from the news. But then there is a such an obsessive detailing of everything the attacker used and did to hurt this woman, and I just don’t understand what need it serves to lay every last detail out. It creeps me out that maybe there’s some sort of voyeuristic pleasure derived from it– maybe it’s like a car crash? Maybe people are looking so closely because then they can reassure themselves that it didn’t happen to them? I can’t really believe that’s the whole scenario in this case, though. I think maybe in this story it has something to do with our society’s deep-seated, trying-to-be-hidden, shameful pleasure in seeing the methods used to take this young woman down.

So, back to my aggregator– It’s weird to get these details pushed to me every day, to have them slip quietly into a space that I had lulled myself into thinking of as my own. This certainly isn’t the only disturbing story I’ve read via rss– news about war and abuse fill the New York Times feed every day. But maybe because this one is local and so disturbingly detailed, it feels that much closer. I’m not drawing any pithy conclusions from this, just thinking about the ways my emotions and perceptions of information affect and are affected by my use of technology. It looks like I’m not alone in wanting some way to easily filter the news that comes my way (the comments  and Dave Winer’s follow-up posts are worth reading, too).


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