Robin Williams' Death United Many - If They Knew

August 14, 2014 - 3:04 PM

Robin Williams San Francisco

FILE - In this Oct. 22, 2002 file photo, actor Robin Williams sings "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in the seventh inning during game 3 of the World Series in San Francisco. Williams was everywhere in San Francisco, it seemed, as he made a place for himself in the everyday fabric of a city where he once said he passed for normal. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)

DURANGO, Colo. (AP) — I may have been among the last to learn of Robin Williams' death.

I was spending a few days in the Colorado woods. No laptop. No TV. No radio. No phone. Not so much as a wrist watch. For someone like me, who, like so many others, finds his every waking (and sometimes sleeping) hour filled with emails, text alerts and old-fashioned phone calls, it was an alien but placid world.

Then, late Tuesday, I re-occupied the grid. Jarringly. As I found out.

I got my first word of Williams' tragic suicide moments after booting up my iPhone. I got an awful surprise, but it justified my usual qualms upon resuming my digital existence, even after a couple of hours offline at a concert. Filled with that familiar trepidation, if not outright dread, I watched the back-logged email stack up and my news apps update.

It used to be, you returned from a trip wondering what mail might be waiting to ambush you at the front door — a bill for a purchase you forgot you made or, God forbid, a jury summons. You would reel through your answering-machine messages, not all of which were likely to be welcoming. You would glance at unread newspapers with their dismal headlines.

That was about it. Re-entry was easier then. That's because the exit wasn't so extreme.

Today we live not so much in an information age as in total submersion, like citizens of Info-Atlantis. To shut our eyes and ears to information intake is to retreat into an alternate, now-unnatural state, for which we are liable to pay a price.

For me to get the news of Williams' death more than a day (an eternity!) after everyone else compounded the shock I joined them in, with other feelings of my own. Like my sense of negligence at being out of reach. Like my remorse at having dealt myself out of this communal experience.

The Internet-age term FOMO — "fear of missing out" — applies here in a striking if bitter way. Who wants to miss out on the grim or shocking news that united the public and fueled a national or even global conversation? No one likes to be blindsided, much less being the last one blindsided.

Granted, some of what I'm feeling is specific to my job. I'm part of the media machine. To be out of touch, however fleetingly, leaves me disoriented.

But today nearly everyone is part of the media machine. Everyone who tweets or has a Facebook page or uploads a video to YouTube. Everyone who blogs or posts a comment to a blog. We all are part of this ecology, both feeding into it and feeding on it.

So we are all complicit in the way that tragedies and other bombshells come at us so quickly and, at times, so overwhelmingly. And we understand the brevity of each story's lifespan, as it gives way to the next story. Dare to step away too long and you're liable to miss one of them.

Now re-engaged, I am scrambling to catch up with the death of Robin Williams, who, like so many others, I have a rich store of feelings to process. And here I'm scrambling to add my two-cents'-worth to the discussion, however belatedly it may be.

By Williams' sad passing, I have been reminded yet again what we all know, or should, about our obligations in the modern world: We log off at our peril.

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EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore@ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier. Past stories are available at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/frazier-moore