According to this article:

Popular TV personality Bill Nye collapsed onstage Tuesday night in front of hundreds of audience members during a presentation at USC, campus officials said.

“Nobody went to his aid at the very beginning when he first collapsed — that just perplexed me beyond reason,” USC senior Alastair Fairbanks said. “Instead, I saw students texting and updating their Twitter statuses. It was just all a very bizarre evening.”

This led some people to blame this bizarre event on mobile technology and social media. Actually, I think it’s more a case of the bystander effect. If you’re part of a large group of people, you’re less likely to take certain actions, thinking someone else will do it, or someone else is in charge of it. And what exactly do you do with someone who passes out anyway? A medical reaction is not common sense… we’d probably just go to his side, try to wake him up, ask if he’s OK and if he wants some water, and maybe call an ambulance if it seems like something we can’t handle. That’s not a very trained response.

Furthermore, what do you do when you’re not even sure what’s happening? According to one comment on the article:

When he first collapsed he was talking about gravity, and the audience believed it was part of his act.

Perhaps this is a risk for anyone who likes to joke… what if you’re not joking? How will people know? There was that British comedian Tommy Cooper who died of a heart attack during a performance on live television, and the audience just laughed because they didn’t realize what was really going on.

Anyway, the point is that I think this phenomenon is rooted in our psychology, not so much our technological culture, not our desire to update twitter.


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