The megastorm variously called Hurricane Sandy, Post-Tropical Storm Sandy and Frankenstorm Apocalypse produced many horror-inducing outcomes: widespread power outages, massive flooding, lost property, and, sadly, death. For some, it was also evidence of God’s wrath or global warming, which in either event doesn’t say much good about humanity in general.
Here’s the thing: Sandy also produced some pretty convincing evidence of the inherent good in most people.
From a rare spirit of bipartisanship to neighbors checking in on one another, to citizens doing their part to keep their friends, family and neighbors informed, this extraordinary weather event showed that people really can pull together in a crisis.
It is this latter example that has most intrigued me. While citizen media has been growing since the dawn of blogging in the early part of 21st century, the confluence of abundantly available smartphones, mobile apps and well-tended social networks means that everyday people now have the greatest power to disseminate news from the most local levels possible.
For instance, through Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter (#Sandy), we have a catalog of photography (some of it extraordinarily beautiful or emotionally impactful) that details the impacts of the storm down to a block-by-block basis in some instances. From Lower Manhattan to Brooklyn’s Redhook to the Jersey Shore and beyond, documentary photos shared in real-time provided critical information about conditions on any particular patch of ground you might be concerned with, covering thousands of miles.
Combine smartphones with YouTube and Facebook, and we also have extensive video of literally every minute of the unfolding disaster from almost every imaginable vantage point. This is not only useful information in the moment, it will be valuable data for civic planners and first responders to use when figuring out ways to reduce vulnerabilities to events such as these in the future.
And then there’s the commentary. Twitter once again proves its value as the most efficient vox populi device in the history of humankind. Combined with live blogging and constant Facebook newsfeed updates, and folks everywhere could rely on real-time information, fact-checking, and moral support throughout the disaster. (I reposted a photo on Facebook that turned out to be a fake, and within minutes of posting it evidence of its fraudulence was posted to correct my mistake – that’s wisdom-of-the-crowd at work.)
There’s one fly in the ointment, however, and that’s electricity. Too many people lost power and then let their device batteries run dry. This extreme weather event is also a reminder that back-ups are needed, whether that is a home power generator or crank radios that also double as mobile device chargers.
No matter what happens, it’s good to know we can always tap into the wisdom and essential goodness of the crowd. There’s hope for us all, after all.