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Microblogging After the China Earthquake / Twitter

16 May

‘We just had a massive earthquake. Still alive though…’ said inwalkedbud in Chengdu on Twitter shortly after the quake struck. 

This quote was taken from a BBC article.

I first signed up for a Twitter account after reading a news story about a US student who was in a foreign country Twittering a simple message along the lines of “arrested,” instantly notifying his friends back home and his colleagues locally.  I don’t remember the circumstances or the country, but Twitter was very important in keeping his friends updated on his status, and it helped to expedite his eventual release.

I signed up for Twitter while doubting its utility in my own life.  I’m not the kind of person who updates her Facebook account through her mobile device.  I don’t really even text message.  Actually I hate text messaging people.  When I got my first cell phone a few years ago, I asked the customer service representative whether I could opt out of receiving text messages if I didn’t want to pay the 15 cents a message charge.  I love getting texts from friends (and sometimes it IS more convenient than a phone call), but I was worried about potential spam text messages!  They told me I couldn’t block them.  (Apparently, blocking text messages might become an option soon.)  But for me, a phone is a phone.  I don’t really have a deep desire to upgrade to the latest model with the latest gadget (like a mini-projector???) every 3 months.  (Though if you want to give me one as a gift, I wouldn’t mind!)

Tangentially, many of my life “upgrades” were originally gifts given to me because people around me felt I was behind the curve in adopting new technology.  I upgraded from dial-up (available for free as an employee benefit) to DSL when my sisters bought me a subscription as a gift.  They thought I was behind the times – and I was.  I’ve never gone back.  My mom got me a cell phone when I refused to buy one for myself.  I saw no need for such a luxury, but she was worried about my safety and wanted to be able to reach me anytime or vice versa.  Yes, don’t worry, I couldn’t let my mom pay for my cell phone service, so I soon started paying for the service myself, but I know that she would have continued to pay for it if I had continued to be stubborn in my refusal to get one.

So… Twitter.  Neat tool.  But I wouldn’t really use it to keep up with 100 “friends” on my list.  Really, I’m not the type of person to have that many true friends anyways.  And I can’t imagine anybody – not even my my sisters or my closest friends wanting to know what I did every hour of the day.  And besides, I feel so egotistical posting such banal posts as the ones you see on my Twitter RSS feed here.

I saw Twitter only as another source of information overload, especially if people like “CNN” or the “Grammar Girl” or the “Get-It-Done Guy” are my “friends.”  By the way, the latter two produce GREAT podcasts.  And I didn’t even add CNN or any of the like as “friends” because…  Well, I already have info overload with my RSS subscriptions!  (Hence the utility of the Get-It-Done Guy’s advice!)  Perhaps, if more of my friends use it, though, it would be more fun to follow.  (And yes, an even bigger time-suck.)

So, I don’t really use Twitter myself.

BUT…  I’m starting to come around in seeing its usefulness in society.  So don’t hold me to that!  Take the quote at the top of this blog post after the recent earthquake in China.  Thankfully, I’ve never experienced anything nearly as horrific as this earthquake, but it does bring back to mind a 3 am feeling of futility, as I was amidst a sea of cots that was covering the Astrodome floor to accommodate the tens of thousands of Katrina refugees a few years ago.  I had been watching the news around the midnight hours, and the first several buses were starting to come in from New Orleans carrying Hurricane Katrina survivors, and a call for volunteers was issued.  And so I went, not knowing what I would be doing.  I lived within walking distance of the dome.  How could I not go?

LITTLE SQUARES OF POST-IT NOTES.  LITTLE SQUARES OF POST-IT NOTES!!!

In the diaspora after the Katrina tragedy and the Superdome debacle family members were having a hard time locating each other.  An unaccounted mother, father, sister, or brother could have been evacuated to the same shelter or one in another state, and a person would have no way of finding their loved one.  So fellow volunteers and I were taking the names, parishes, and phone numbers from distressed survivors, writing them with a pen on LITTLE SQUARES OF POST-IT NOTES and posting them on a big bulletin board by last name. Notes were along the lines of: Looking for ‘x’.  I am here.  Under the large banner.

Meanwhile, the PA system was announcing similar messages, trying to function as a conduit to reunite people.  Eventually, they announced that they were going to momentarily suspend the announcements to allow people to sleep – if they could.

Fellow volunteers shared my frustration over these inefficient Post-Its.  Paper and pen???  In this time and age???  Are you serious???  C’mon, FEMA!!!  Get your act together!  A couple of the volunteers happened to have their personal laptops in their cars so they went back to the parking lot to retrieve them.  Okay, now we’re starting to get somewhere.  Computers instead of little squares of paper!  I still didn’t feel like I was really making a difference there amidst so much despair, but at least we were no longer papering a wall that would have taken a long time for a bedraggled mom to comb through looking for news that her lost son survived the hurricane.

Would Twitter or a similar service have made a difference here?  Perhaps.  In some cases.  But many (most?) of these people didn’t have cell phones.  They wouldn’t have been able to Twitter “I am alive / I am here” messages.  Many were lucky to escape with only their lives.

I have seen many pictures of the Astrodome scene and of the Katrina flooding in New Orleans, but none are as powerful as the mental image I have in my memories…  Even years later, thinking back to those moments…  I don’t even have words for what I’m feeling right now…  I just keeping heaving heavy sighs…

But it’s incredible the faith and the resilience people have to recover from devastation caused by Katrina and similarly destructive cyclones, tsunamis, and tornadoes.  I have a great deal of respect and admiration for a person who has lost all and still remains faithful and hopeful and optimistic about the future.  I have no idea how I would respond if faced with a similar tragedy.  I hope I’ll never have to find out.

Just in case, maybe I should figure out how to Twitter from my cell phone!  Eh.

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3 Comments

Posted by on Friday, May 16, 2008 in Computers, Twitter

 

3 responses to “Microblogging After the China Earthquake / Twitter

  1. Jane

    Tuesday, May 20, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    Engadget: Major wireless carriers all slapped with text-messaging class-action lawsuit

    http://www.engadget.com/2008/05/20/major-wireless-carriers-all-slapped-with-text-messaging-class-ac/

     
  2. Jane

    Tuesday, May 20, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    [CrunchGear] Twitter: Now as powerful as the Clapper

    http://www.crunchgear.com/2008/05/20/twitter-now-as-powerful-as-the-clapper/

    Crazy…

     
  3. Stever Robbins

    Wednesday, May 21, 2008 at 11:17 am

    Thanks for your support with the Get-it-Done Guy podcast! Twitter can definitely be useful, but it takes some thought. I try to send out a mix of questions/things to engage people who have a few minutes, some random life stuff to create a bit of a personal connection, and occasional conversation when a really hot topic grabs my attention.

    The trick with a broadcast medium like Twitter is finding a balance between saying enough that people find interesting without overwhelming them. Personally, I read Twitter once or twice a day on the web, but try not to get too sucked in. So like e-mail, it becomes a tool, but doesn’t dictate my life.

     

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