Sunlight Shining Through Cloud

21st Century Tom-toms – The Good And The Bad

Posted on: March 11, 2011

Stop me if you already know this stuff.

This post is about communications technology…not Charlie Sheen, who’s conducting a very public meltdown with the use of communications technology.

It’s an odd thing about human nature; when there’s an accident, we stand at the street corner to watch.  Charlie started to Tweet his thoughts on March 1st.  Within twenty-four hours, he had a million ‘Followers’, reaching that mark faster than anyone before.  Today, he has over 2.5 million Followers; 2.5 million people are flocking to the street corner to watch this accident.  Sheen has a little work to do, however, to catch up to Lady Gaga’s 8.6M Twitter Followers.

Charlie’s new-found infamy has begun to pay off handsomely with microblogging endorsements.  It seems a classic case of the bad being rewarded for being bad.

There are also unintended consequences of the swelling number of Tweeters.  As SNL’s Lazy Sunday video did for YouTube in 2005, Charlie Sheen is doing for Twitter.  The site’s valuation is experiencing a meteoric rise over the past couple of weeks.  Will Google snap it up as it did YouTube (for $1.5B)?

When she’s not saying it on Fox, Sarah Palin is sayin’ it on Facebook.  But she has only 2M ‘Friends’ compared with Gaga’s 10.  Heck, Michael Jackson has 14.5M Friends, and he’s dead!

Commerce and politicians have adopted these platforms as essential means of communication with constituents.  Indeed, whole new ways of marketing and campaigning and governing have been instituted because of these technologies.

Wars against corrupt rulers are being waged in the mid-east.  We know about these uprisings in quite some detail because people in the middle of the action are sending messages to the world.

Once there was a time that (when disaster happened) people beat on drums to communicate their current status.  Later, letters were written and sent.  Then phone calls were made.  Now it’s the age of technology, and it’s all very commonplace to you and me.

Whenever something important happens in the world, CNN sends me a text.  NPR sends me an e-mail.  When an earthquake over a magnitude of 5.0 occurs within a specific area of my own design, the U.S. Geological Survey sends me a text and an e-mail, as I have requested.

And it gets very personal.  When the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed four blocks behind me in 2007, I called my parents to tell them that I was alright.  Then I e-mailed everyone on my contacts list to give them the same message.  How much faster and efficient.

Our world is a wonderful place with nice people and flowers and baseball.  It is also a place with crime and desolation.  We’ve learned how to deal with it, and we don’t go where we shouldn’t.  Not so long ago, the internet was considered a wild and dangerous place.  It is still, but we’re wiser in its use, and we have various means of control over the dangers.  The internet is now essential to our economies and, indeed, existence.

What can be bad is also good.  What can be good is also bad.

All of this came to mind yet again over the past two days.  Texts and e-mails from the USGS began to pile up in my inboxes.  I got so many that my ISP began to put them in the SPAM folder.  It would have been amusing if it weren’t so serious.  I’m referring, of course, to the earthquakes off the east coast of the island of Honshu, Japan.  Media reports are telling us of an 8.9 quake and many aftershocks.  I stopped counting at 50 the number of quakes over 5.0 in just the past 48 hours.  At this writing, official sources count 127 quakes over 6.0 in the same period, and the number continues to grow.  Having lived in Alaska for ten years, I was also cognizant of the possibility of Tsunami’s.

As scary as this is, communications technology is serving us well.  Lisa doesn’t want to be shielded from the truth.  She wants every detail despite her apprehension.  And it’s no wonder; her son Nick lives and teaches grade school only two hundred miles from the epicenter of these earthquakes.  He texted this morning at 7:30 eastern and said that they were shaken quite badly but that there was “no major damage” at his location.  The next city over, Hachinohe, didn’t fare as well.

While we wait for Nick’s next report, we take some comfort in knowing.  How much worse would it be if we didn’t?

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