This last week was intense. Bombings, explosions, poisonous letters, gun fights and police chases. All in a period of five days. None of this was happening physically close to me, but I felt that it was. Our technology and rapidly evolving digital communications world has brought us closer together as a country. We feel each others’ joy, pain, fear, celebration, heartbreak and intensities as if we were all together in one place. This last week made believers out of skeptics for the communication power of channels like Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook.
The Boston Marathon bombings were truly the first live-tweeted tragedy. The news first broke on Twitter. The police used Twitter to call for help in collecting photos and videos of the scenes (by Wednesday they had collected three terabytes of information). Participants used it to report their status to friends and family members. The rest of us used it to share our love and support and offer outreach and help to those in Boston.
I was traveling on Monday and without cell service for much of the day. As soon as I was back within range, one of the first things I did was open Twitter, not expecting news of a tragedy that had happened many hours earlier. Twitter was how I learned of the bombings and how I kept up with the news the rest of the evening until I was able to get to a television for live news coverage. But even then, Twitter was just ahead of the TV with breaking news.
We’ve followed tragedy and disaster “live” before. But this time it was more personal with regular people reporting as if they were the media, sharing their specific experiences. From NPR:
“But this time, in our full-on, post-Sept. 11 surveillance society and freshly Twitterized media, we were able to experience each event in excruciating, exquisite detail.
“Through the saturation of social media, we were also able to experience it equally, whether reporting from the streets of Boston or the scorched explosion site in Texas, from newsrooms in New York or Los Angeles or Berlin, or from our own living rooms and college dorm rooms.
“This week, these awful events have cemented the reality that the media is now everyone, anyone with a computer or a smartphone, a Twitter account or a Facebook page.”
On the day of the bombing there were 500,000 tweets mentioning Boston with mentions of the world “Boston” skyrocketing on Twitter by a factor of 200 as the explosions were reported.
The consumer technology and communications tools available to us all and kept by our sides 24-hours a day are beyond valuable in connecting us as a country and as human beings. This past week felt like a personal attack, though I personally knew no one involved in any of this week’s tragedies. I felt the heartbreak for Boston, I felt the pride in its police force and I felt the relief when the suspect was captured. While some may criticize and avoid technological innovation and digital communications for disconnecting us personally, I believe that it brings us closer together.