|Posted on September 8, 2010 at 5:33 PM|
One thing I’ve found particularly interesting in the last 72 hours is the interaction of digital and other technological forums, which has helped me feel calmer and more in touch than TV and radio could ever have done.
What would we do without the Internet? I’ve asked it many times, usually tongue-in-cheek, but recently the question has taken on a new significance.
Head back 30 years. No Internet. No cell phones. No instant, digital representation of events, often as they unfold. Having lived in those times, I can more than imagine how I would feel if none of those were accessible during the events that started Saturday morning with the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that rocked Christchurch. I imagine it would have been a much more isolated, lonely experience for me and my family.
At no time has cell phone coverage been interrupted (Telecom XT – all is forgiven!). I sent a text to my mother in Hamilton at about 5am Saturday. I sent numerous texts to the ones I love and felt concern for in Christchurch, and, even better, in most cases I heard back from them soon after. While I was able to work on securing the house and my family, check out some of the neighbours, and look for damage around the outside of the house and on the street, I was getting texts from people letting me know they were safe, and making sure we were, too. Hard to imagine how that would have gone if I was restricted to a two metre phone cord in the kitchen. If the landlines were working at all.
With no power or Internet, we were limited to what we were getting from the radio. We heard confirmation of what we already knew. A big earthquake had hit Christchurch. Slowly we got more detailed information on the radio. 7.1 centred near Darfield. We began hearing reports, one at a time, of what others – strangers - had experienced in those few hours.
Suddenly, however, when power was restored only a few hours later, the significance of what had happened really became apparent, thanks to the LIVE images TV1 was showing. With that in the background, though, I turned on my laptop and a larger, but much more personal world opened up. Not only was I getting the selective reporting TVNZ decided I needed to see, now my friends – real people I know and love – were telling me their detailed stories and feelings.
I uploaded to Flickr photos of the “destruction” in our house. My family in Hamilton could see them instantly, whereas they would not have seen them for weeks – if ever - were it not for the Internet. TVNZ certainly wasn’t coming to my house.
Others had the same idea. I began seeing others’ experiences of the earthquake, only hours after it had happened. Not strangers with whom I had no connection, but people I know and cared about.
And the comments started coming through on Facebook. I began hearing the thoughts in those people’s minds – unedited and real. Instant. And they were saying the same things I was feeling. Conversations were taking place that could never have happened without the Internet.
Technical data started coming through, via the Internet, but also via Twitter. Updates were being sent to my mobile phone. Information relevant to me.
Over the next 72 hours, while we tuned in to the TV to get a broad picture of what was happening in Canterbury, it was much more important that we continued to get the thoughts, feelings and experiences of friends via Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter. It was important to me that I could contribute to, and even initiate conversations. Actively involved or not, it was calming to see the conversations happening. No matter what time of the night or day, they were there, always with new updates.
The view numbers on my Flickr photos went through the roof. People all over the world were looking at them, commenting, and wishing me and my family and friends well. My photographic colleagues were getting similar comments, and were involved in the online conversations.
Perhaps the most important times that those conversations were taking place were late at night when the day was over, darkness had engulfed the chaos, and for some unknown reason the accursed aftershocks seemed to kick in – they just don’t feel as bad during daylight hours – and the anxiety I felt at each one possibly being the one that would bring the house down (only a slight exaggeration) was, in no small way, assuaged by the knowing that our friends were experiencing similar feelings. We weren’t alone.
Were it not for Facebook and Twitter, we would not have known that. I might have got an inkling from whatever sound-bites TVNZ chose to give us. But it was/is so much more important to me to hear the thoughts of people I know than of strangers far removed from me.
So, by and large I’ve been glued to my computer these last few days. Checked in on the TV news occasionally; listened a bit to talkback radio. But had my computer on almost every waking moment.
Of course, people coped pre-internet. Don’t get me wrong. People had conversations pre-Facebook. Perhaps they knew their neighbours better. Perhaps family was closer. I’m just saying that for me, in the 21st Century, it was interesting how Flickr, Facebook and Twitter changed the dynamic of this non-fatal human tragedy.