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When technology darkens our lives

The Army is investigating the circumstances during which a wife watched her husband in Afghanistan die during a Skype call. In how many other instances might technology make things more difficult to experience, not less?

Because we are all children, we always want more. Technology tries to give it to us, especially because those who create it are always trying to put more of the new into the world.

Yet sometimes technology can expose us to a "more" that we had never imagined and one that we might wish never to have experienced.

No one can conceive what it must have been like when Susan Clark watched her husband -- stationed in Afghanistan -- die during a Skype call.

According to the Associated Press, Capt. Bruce Kevin Clark, 43, was on an apparently regular call from Afghanistan with his wife when something truly awful happened.

The circumstances seem sufficiently suspicious for the Army to be investigating.

A statement issued by Capt. Clark's brother-in-law, Bradley Taber-Thomas, read: "At the time of the incident, the family was hoping for a rescue and miracle, but later learned that it was not to be."

It is impossible to speculate what might have occurred, but there is something completely chilling in every pronouncement that has been made about this incident.

Every time technology brings people closer together, it also brings closer the potential for more fully witnessing events that might be horrific, just as much as they might be joyous.

The aim is always to make everything a more alive, more immediate experience. But there are some things that one surely never wants to watch. Just as there are some things one never wants to hear, never wants to smell, never wants to touch.

If you know, for example, that your mother is facing life-or-death surgery, you surely don't want to watch that surgery and listen to the doctor's immediate pronouncements as they work on her. Though, one day, you might be able to.

Pain, sadness, shock, hate, modern technologies deliver these with far more immediacy, far more impact than anything in the past. We have all come to use these technologies as if we had never been without them, but we have surely not yet become mentally prepared for the savagery -- or the sheer un-reality -- of the surprises they can deliver.

Just last month, the Associated Press reported that a Taiwanese woman, Claire Lin, committed suicide while chatting with friends on Facebook.

Some reportedly tried to help, but none called the police. Was it because they were in shock? Or was it because, as one Taiwanese sociologist told the Associated Press: "People may have doubts about what they see on the Internet because of its virtual nature, and fail to take action on it"?

Recently, another Army wife, Ariell Taylor-Brown, explained how upset she was that she heard via Facebook that her husband in Afghanistan had died.

Even though it was a fellow soldier of his who told her -- no doubt with the best of intentions -- Army wives are steeled for the knock on the door, the uniforms waiting outside. They are not steeled to hear via Facebook that their husband is dead.

In this case, Capt. Clark's brother-in-law offered this addition to his statement: "Although the circumstances were unimaginable, Bruce's wife and extended family will be forever thankful that he and his wife were together in his last moments."

Susan Clark watched her husband die on camera. Many might imagine that the real images of that will have an even more grueling effect than anything she might have heard if the incident -- whatever it turns out to have been -- hadn't happened while they were actually looking at each other.