What, Me Worry?



“Ebola! Is the Deadly African Virus Coming For YOU?

Uh, probably not. Not if you live in the United States and don’t, say, fly to Nigeria searching for carriers and then inducing them to bleed or vomit on you. Otherwise, you’re pretty safe.

But don’t let that stop you from panicking! And tweeting about how people who enter New York City hospitals with symptoms like fever and vomiting might be infected with Ebola!

I mean, entering a hospital with a high temperature and nausea? My God, what else COULD it be?

Yes, Ebola is trending upwards among People Who Always Worry About The Wrong Things.

PWAWATWT have an uncanny knack for working themselves up into a froth about all sorts of stuff that is either imaginary, a paranoid delusion, or statistically insignificant. Voter fraud. Shark attacks. Obama becoming a dictator. The government seizing your guns. The gay agenda to destroy your marriage. Protecting yourself from parasitic friends and relatives when you hit the $300 million Powerball jackpot in the state lottery next week.

But the things that they should worry about? Climate change, wealth disparity, morbid obesity? Ehh-hhh. Either not a concern, or a gigantic hoax foisted upon us by the government, for reasons that remain unclear.

Up until the proliferation of social media, the role of hyperbolically spreading panic into the mainstream belonged to the nightly news and 24 hour cable-news networks. Not only did disaster await around every corner, but there wasn’t anything happening in the world that couldn’t affect You. Personally!

“Coming up at 10: A serial killer has escaped from prison and right this minute is lurking in a residential neighborhood. Which prison? What neighborhood? Stay tuned!” “Robin Williams committed suicide. Is one of YOUR comedian friends in danger of taking their life? Warning signs to watch out for!”

I could swear I heard someone on CNN tease a segment by announcing, “Coming up: Could missing Malaysian flight 370 crash into YOUR house?” But it was just an apocalyptic dream.

If you listen to particular “news” outlets or rabid radio hosts, your whole day can be spent keeping a vigil against government conspiracies to take away your right to choose your own light bulbs, or make your kids eat healthy, or other far-flung plots.

But now these media mavens have to share this Doomsayer function not only with the internet but the Twitterverse and other modes of instantaneous person-to-gullible person communication. “Breaking news” is being replaced with “breaking tweets.” Twitter was all agog about Ebola. Very little of it helpful.

In one of those things that sounds like the expert knows what she’s talking about until you actually think about it, the New York Times quotes Dr. Pamela Rutledge, a psychologist and director of the Media Psychology Research Center (that’s a thing?) in Corona del Mar, California, who posits that sharing wild rumors and misinformation about outbreaks like Ebola are a way for we, the people, to get a handle on our anxiety, because,” sharing information — even if it’s inaccurate…is less threatening than being out of the ‘know.’”

In other words, according to this authority, seeking out and becoming apoplectic about a non-existent menace is a method people use to become less anxious.

As opposed to, say, not engaging in wild speculation in the first place.

Me? I worry about respected sources like The New York Times citing psychobabble like this as if it makes sense

Although, in an ironic “meta” way, maybe it proves her point. Reading nonsensical explanations in the Times makes us think we have some understanding of others’ peculiar behavior, even when it’s balderdash.

Anyway, the point is, you can relax and not fret about catching the Ebola virus. Because I just read on Twitter that any minute now, a giant asteroid is going to collide directly into the Earth.


About Stan Sinberg

Stan is an award-winning newspaper columnist, radio commentator, and features writer whose humor has appeared in everything from the NY Times to WSJ and MAD Magazine. Stan is a native New Yorker living on the west coast. His website is www.stansinberg.com and you can email him at stan@stansinberg.com or follow him on Twitter @ssinberg1
Posted in: Society