Earthquakes, Twitter and Mystery Newsmen

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May 28, 2013 by bmcconnelluwo

I’m racing through deep, ferocious rapids in a fiberglass dingy more suited to a backyard swimming pool than the biblical white caps it’s currently trying to traverse.

Cracks slowly start to appear and water rushes into the hull of my boat. My boxers are drenched instantly and I think, “Why am I only wearing underwear while fighting for my life amidst a biblical flood of water.”

Suddenly the ground starts to shake all around me and I hear what sounds like a window rattling furiously in its frame.

“Stop it, I’m trying to sleep,” I exclaim loudly, waking up at 10:30am on a Friday morning—not wet. That explains the boxers.

But why is the world shaking around me?

Probably just a small earthquake, we get those sometimes in Ottawa. Let’s check Twitter.

10:32am. “RT Anyone else feel an #earthquake?”

A flood of Tweets start flowing in about earthquakes, Ottawa, Toronto, more earthquakes, Justin Bieber and, finally, a reputable news source confirms my suspicion.

At 10:29am I’m nude racing through rapids, by 10:32am I’ve been awoken by and then confirmed via social media that what woke me up was an earthquake.

I learned where it originated from, how far away it could be felt and had a rough estimation of its strength.

That was efficient—time to go back to sleep and dream about unicorns.

At the same time, a 90-year old woman in an Ottawa nursing home feels the same shaking and hears the same rattling.

Not knowing if it’s an earthquake, a large car rolling by, somebody large falling down or a jack hammer going to town on the pavement outside, she calls up the people she typically looks to for accurate, speedy information.

She picks up the phone and calls the reception desk of the Ottawa Citizen.

The information she receives is the same but it takes the woman significantly longer to get the complete picture, longer to get through to somebody and she must rely on the person on the other end of the phone to have all the information she requires.

This is a true story of my and a caller’s experience of the 5.1 magnitude earthquake that shook Ottawa and surrounding area on May 17.whats-a-newspaper

While it makes perfect sense that a 90-year old woman would not instantly think to check her Twitter account for information about the ground shaking, let alone have a Twitter account or the internet, this is an interesting case study about how vastly different the transmission of information is now versus 90 years ago.

While not a fool proof, always accurate source of information by any means, Twitter allowed me to find out almost instantly what was happening. I didn’t even have to get out of bed.

This was also my first thought of where to go for instantaneous information—social media, not the newspaper. This is because I’ve grown up in the digital age wherein information flows at speeds never before seen.

I’m used to it and, so, if I wasn’t able to groggily check what had happened and had to wait for my precious information, I’d likely become annoyed and wonder why Twitter was being so crappy.

On the flip side, the old lady in the nursing home’s first instinct was to call up a newspaper.

Of course, for those of you who don’t know what a newspaper is, it’s a physical package of online articles, written in an actual newsroom, by actual working people who collect this information and deliver it to your door.

Think of it as a whole bunch of tweets, collected into a series of articles, printed out and delivered with screen grabs of ad videos.

This used to be the main way people would get information so naturally the old lady would look to the mysterious men behind the newsprint.

I’m not trying to make any profound statement about how the internet is changing knowledge and creating generations of information-crazed cyber junkies.

But what I am trying to do is point out how “news” and the way by which people learn about natural events around them has changed so drastically in the past 80 years that the concept of picking up a phone and using your voice to ask another human being a question seems foreign.

And, for someone like me who wants to inevitably go into the journalism industry and become a mystery man behind the newsprint, my own information gathering habits create an interesting paradox regarding how news will be disseminated in the future.

I’m all for reputable sources—I want to be one. But my instinct right after waking up isn’t to check the Ottawa Citizen like it was for the old lady, it was to check Twitter.

I don’t know what that means. All I know is I’m going back to sleep—this time with a life jacket.

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