On my Instagram feed, someone’s waiting out Sandy in a New York bar. And below the photo?

“Cool instagram in a bar when 1000s are now homeless.”

On Facebook and Twitter, people are taken to task for posting photos of snow, for mentioning that their classes are canceled, for being on Facebook at all.

These people aren’t making light of the devastation on the East Coast. They’re not manipulating it for their gain. They’re not even complaining.

But the message is clear across the social web: Don’t you dare be happy in a hurricane.

The damage caused by Hurricane Sandy is devastating and the lives lost should be first and foremost in our minds. It’s inappropriate to make light of tragedy, or to capitalize on it and use real pain for profit.

But that’s not what the bar instagrammer was doing. There’s a sharp difference in monetization or appropriation, and simply expressing what’s going on in front of you.

Because that’s what happens in our newly digital world. And it will continue to happen, whether we like it or not, because joy doesn’t stop in the presence of pain. That’s immutable.

Life is a mix of joy and pain, today on the East Coast of the United States, and every day. The day you got married, the day your child was born, the day you tossed your graduation cap into the air, someone was suffering. A week ago, before anyone thought to call out their friends for instagramming the snow outside their window, people were aching in Syria, in Pakistan, all over the world.

It mattered then. The pain on the East Coast matters now. And it did not, in either case, make anyone wrong for seeking and sharing the good right in front of them.

There is always something horrific we could use to confront and judge the joy of others.

And there is still joy.

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