Confessions of an Internet Rubbernecker

Rachel Petroff Kessler
November 21, 2013
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I am an internet rubbernecker.


I feel blessed to be living in a time of wireless connectivity, of virtual networks and instant communication. I feel lucky to be able to maintain relationships with friends and acquaintances from different parts of my life, to be able to access information with the touch of a button or the swipe of a finger. But all this connectivity and content comes with a cost. 

For every uplifting story I read, every baby picture and engagement update, it seems there is a painful story of all that being ripped away from someone else. I am overwhelmed by the tragedy that I see on the Internet, but I admit I find it hard to turn away. It is easy to fall down the rabbi hole and to suddenly find myself reading the blog of a child with cancer I don’t know, or seeking updates on an accident that left a parent incapacitated.

We live in a world that is interconnected, and that is a beautiful thing. But it also means that the sort of thing that maybe you’d hear about because it happened to your sister’s neighbor is suddenly something you hear about happening every day. That incredibly rare genetic disease? The stories of three kids suffering from it are in your extended network and suddenly and it doesn’t seem so rare anymore. How can we plant our roots and build our lives when it seems as if certain tragedy is just a blink away?


To try and bring some balance back, I am also a regular reader of the blog, Free Range Kids. I find it helpful for keeping my parental anxieties in perspective (helpful whenever I feel helicopter blades struggling to emerge beneath my shoulder blades). Here, I am regularly reminded that our world is fundamentally safe, that accidents, however tragic, are accidental. And rare.


I need this reminder because sometimes I don’t like the way I respond to the suffering that leaps out at me through my screen. I want my instinct in the face of suffering to be to reach out my hand. And do I cry when reading their stories? Often, yes.  But instead of then being moved to action I find myself shutting down and turning inward. I turn off my screen and bundle my daughter up to take her to the playground, closing my eyes and ears to the pain in our world in pursuit of our own joy.



But while I want to live joyfully and celebrate the blessings in my own life, I also don’t want to ignore the pain and suffering that exists in the world. And so, I am striving to seek out balance – to try and limit my consumption of internet pain and to put my attention on those in my immediate, physical world whom I can support through difficult times in concrete and meaningful ways.

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Rachel Petroff Kessler is the Family Educator at Temple Isaiah in Fulton, Maryland. Originally from upstate New York, Rachel has worked as a Jewish educator in a variety of settings, including Hillel at Binghamton, Kutz: NFTY’s Campus for Reform Jewish Teens, and Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Manhattan. Rachel graduated from HUC-JIR’s New York School of Education in April 2010 with a Masters in Religious Education and was a summer fellow at Yeshivat Hadar in 2009.

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