Initially published as a column in the AM News on Friday May 29, 2015.

I was driving up Columbia Street when I saw what almost resembled a crowd of journalists gathered for a press conference. Phones were all pointed towards the other side of the street. A car was burning in the parking lot and a group of firefighters were pointing a thick stream of water in an effort to extinguish it.

As I drove further, I saw a few people running down towards the site with their phones out and ready to get in on the action. Of ogling, I mean, in which case action is in fact inaction as you simply stare.

What was the motivation behind all of this hubbub? Was it the hope of their video going ‘viral’ or simply the need to take a shot of something outside of the norm? A short-lived ability to make someone go ‘oh’ and ‘ah’ over something that bears the mark of sensational? I can only assume.

I kept on driving thinking of another incident heard over the news a few days ago. A man traveling in Thailand had his phone snatched by an elephant who, in the process of owning the device for a bit, took a ‘selfie’. Yes, the photo went viral and the story too and there was even a poll on the CBC website asking people to guess about the location. Go figure.

Now it is all forgotten, just like the fire in the parking lot will be or is gone already from collective memory (despite the CFJC video that had 66k likes on Facebook), just like the many ‘top viral videos of the week’, just like the viral photo or video of tomorrow. One could say this is what’s right about all of this though.

Short-lived stuff, no matter how many ripples it creates, is just that: a one match fire that lasts only as much as the match does.

And that is what makes it frustrating, especially in today’s social and political context when there are so many matters of utmost importance citizens can and should get involved in, post and write about it, and make ripples which will only add to the impact we all need to have on issues pertaining more than a burning car in a parking lot or other jaw-dropping quick facts of today’s world.

Like the infamous bill C-51, which our senators will get to vote on in a few days. Talk about ogling, cameras and things going awry. If the bill comes to be, people like you and me will be the object of ogling and there will be nothing sensational about it, other than the bewilderment over how this state of affairs came to be.

On the other hand, and in less darker tones, the story of ogling could still take better turns.  A few days ago while my family and I visited friends in Barnhartvale I saw a pink-flower bush that bore plump blossom clumps and on each clump there was a swallowtail butterfly and a couple of bumblebees.

I could get close enough to look at them and then we all stood for a while, hosts included, watching the most gracious dance of yellow and black wings over big pink blossoms. I will never forget that. And yes, I did take a few photos and as I did, I knew I will write about it at least once.

Viral or not, there was something so outstandingly beautiful about it all. The warm afternoon air pinched at times by the buzzing of bumblebees, the silent dance of the butterflies, grownups and children standing in fascination in the middle of grassy slopes nestled among treed hills… a world worth staring at, because the more we do, the more we want to keep it like that.

Hunting for the cheap sensational of today that will never be remembered tomorrow dulls our senses to the point of responding only to that, as the real world is not exciting enough to garner that kind of attention.

Like a bad drug, you could say, the need to see the dirt on the world rather than its worthwhile beauty. By that I do not mean just pretty butterflies, but all that pertains to life, raw and real and giving us the full measure of what we’re here for.

With so many people in the world and so much happening, with greed and an increased lack of social conscience at times, we cannot afford to have our attention drawn to things that do little more than elicit the said oh and ah, or a chuckle.

When we focus our attention on loftier goals, as individuals and as a society, rather than monitoring the small cheap stuff, we allow ourselves a fair chance to see the big picture which in turns allows us to do more than ogle, which is observe and act upon matters than keep the world worth looking at.