When the table started to shake at Starbucks I thought it was the man next to me bouncing his leg up and down. I turned to give him a withering gaze and was surprised to see he was sitting perfectly still, transfixed by his Blackberry. That’s when I thought, “Is this an earthquake?” But it couldn’t be an earthquake because North Carolina doesn’t get earthquakes. Yet the table kept shaking and the patrons of Starbucks actually started talking to each other, violating the sacred barriers of privacy that we usually create with ear buds and smartphones and fascinating reading material.
Then it stopped, so I turned to Twitter to find out if that actually was an earthquake or if the baristas had laced the coffee with LSD to induce a mass hallucination. I felt stupid asking the question because I knew I’d look like an idiot if it turned out it had just been a huge semi-truck driving by. Thankfully I didn’t look like a moron because several other people were tweeting that they’d felt it all the way to Canada. Yet, the baristas a few feet away had totally missed it.
I followed the tweets for at least 15 minutes afterward and there was much post-earthquake humor to enjoy. People from LA made fun of us just like I make fun of them for their inability to drive in the rain. I recalled how two of my friends from California had independently marveled at how many brick structures there were in the Midwest, which I’d never much thought about until I saw pictures of how brick walls crumble when the earth shakes. I also giggled when a few hours later my MP3 player randomly played “Little Earthquakes” by Tori Amos.
What I found most striking was that I’d instantly turned to Twitter for information. I checked the news sites and the offical government earthquake site, but none of them had been updated within 60 seconds of the event like Twitter had. Millions of other people had the same reaction as I did because in the aftermath Twitter hit 5500 tweets per second, which was more than Osama Bin Laden’s death attracted.
The 10th anniversary of September 11th is coming up. One of the things I remember about that awful day was that it was the first time people turned to the web en masse for breaking news. The news sites were slammed. The front pages took minutes to load, if you got them to load at all. The web designers switched to simple layouts that were smaller and faster to load, but it was still slow-going. This year will be marked for me as the time I started getting breaking news from Twitter. That’s where I heard about Osama Bin Laden’s death and got details about the east coast earthquake. After the earthquake the regular news channels were more like middle men. Why wait for reporters to talk to people who were there when you can talk to them yourself, even if you’re hundreds of miles away? The news sites are important, don’t get me wrong. They confirm the news instead of repeating rumors that might appear on Twitter (well, they’re supposed to anyway), and they can talk to official sources who might not be tweeting. But when I want to know what’s happening right now, I turn to Twitter.
I don’t know what technology I’ll be turning to ten years from now. Perhaps we’ll all have telepathic implants and I’ll be able to view earthquakes via recordings of other people’s experiences. Mostly I just marvel at how the world is always changing, at how humans are always changing, and at how surprising and fascinating it can be to observe the process.
Yeah, that brick building thing. I’m from Southern California and my husband is from Ohio. When we first went to visit his family I commented on the bricks I saw everywhere. His sister (my age) looked at me like I was crazy, until I explained about Earthquakes. She was also surprised to hear that we don’t generally have basements in California.
Not just observing it, but also writing about it – which you do so very, very well. 🙂
The best thing about tweets during an earthquake is that they travel faster than seismic waves: http://xkcd.com/723/
Debbi Does Dinner Healthy says
I still have yet to get on the twitter bandwagon. Holy cow, 5500 per second? That is insane! I can certainly see the benefit and how you would get news faster. I actually just set up an account but am still trying to figure it all out. Yes, I know, I’m living under a rock. 🙂
Jamie (Mama.Mommy.Mom) says
We were vacationing on the NC coast and felt it too! It was crazy! I did the same thing as you though, and ran straight to Twitter!
This reminded me of how I learned that Princess Diana had been in a car accident in 1997. I first read it on Yahoo’s main page. I made my boyfriend switch off HBO to CNN right then. That was the 1st time I had 1st heard (read) a significant news event online. Now it’s the norm because we have lived without a television in our house for about 10 years now.
The fact that you thought of and put in writing…it won’t be long now….”telepathic implants!”
Following up on DanaDanger’s comment – it’s funny cuz it’s true:
Warren Dostie says
Any earthquake on the East Coast is a shocker (pun int)
I like DanaDangers comment. Perhaps someday aid will be able to be transmitted almost as fast….. They could use some up in Vermont right now