The Boston tragedy instantly reminded me of 9/11 terror attacks and 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks and how my experience was different when it came to getting news about these incidents.
In 2001, when 9/11 happened, I was in a small town in UP which I call my home town. At that time, I remember that I kept sitting in front of the TV screen watching the twin towers fall. I felt shocked. The only source of news for me at that time was CNN’s news feed on Doordarshan (DD). While I could watch TV instantly, I had to wait for Times of India to arrive from New Delhi the next day. I subscribed to it because I wanted to remain updated with the national news and also because I liked reading my news in English language. As I kept watching the twin towers fall, I felt shocked, there was no one really to talk to so I recorded my emotions in a small diary, which I don’t think I even possess now. The human tragedy at that scale was too much to ignore, even if I was living in a remote small town in India.
In 2008, when terrorists struck the city of Mumbai on 26/11, I was in USA in the DC area. I learned about the news of the attacks while I was chatting with a friend on yahoo messenger. I had just joined Twitter and started following the news on twitter. My mother who was in a hospital in Mumbai near the site of the attacks led to far greater anxiety about the situation. I was struck by the power of social media, mainly Twitter and Facebook. I felt I was almost at the site. I followed the news online on various Indian TV channels site, I called my brother to make sure my mother was ok. I called up family to check if they are ok and I spent days and nights following the story on Twitter, listening to people’s reactions in Mumbai, checking out their photos of the tragedy. I read tweets of people trapped inside the hotel room, their rescue stories, how people helped each other. I connected with all family and friends via email to make sure they are ok. Social media not only brought news but brought alive the human aspect of the tragedy. It helped me made sense of the attacks.
Similarly, today when I woke up in the morning at 4:30 am, a habit I am still trying to fight off, ever since I moved to India last year, I said hi! to a friend in Boston on what’s app. He immediately mentioned about the blasts. I checked the news on my iPad and for an hour I kept reading the news, trying to grasp the tragedy. I read several accounts of the tragedy both on mainstream media and blogs. I don’t see much difference in reporting. Both of them have same pictures and similar articles. Most accounts that I had read are from people who were at the site, who were able to post live updates and pictures as the tragedy struck. I watched stories of rescue operations. I have read twitter feeds of people who were at the blast. I learned how technology is helping people to find information about their loved ones. I haven’t really watched TV or read newspaper, yet I feel that I have the latest updates. I have heard reactions of my friends who live around there. It’s as if the world is united in this moment of human tragedy.
What is common to all the three events is that it is about large scale human tragedy. These are stories about loss of lives of those who were innocent. While in the first two cases the perpetrators were known, in the Boston blasts, it’s still not clear who was behind the incident. What has really changed however, is how we receive news and in what manner. While in 2001, it was mainly mass media, in my case TV, in the other two cases, we didn’t have to depend on mass media and reporters to get news. The news was delivered by the real people who were at the center of the tragedy and that’s what makes the news more human and real. The fact that I can get news in real time from someone who is at the event and describes the scene as it plays out, makes the incident much more real and helps us grasp the human loss and tragedy.
The technology in the form of social media has not only changed how we share and receive news, but it also helps us connect with the loved ones in times of tragedy and offer emotional support, it helps us vent out our anger, it helps us make sense of the tragedy in human terms. While technology might not be able to change human nature and teach people not to carry out acts of violence, it certainly has brought the world closer and helps us see the human cost of such acts of violence.