It has been almost a week since the devastating earthquake struck Japan, and as is typical of our time we are receiving surround-sound content on updates. Information is everywhere.
I wake up to a clock radio updating me on events via New Hampshire Public Radio. I go downstairs and log on to my computer and can either look for information on news websites, or have information come passively to me through friends updating statuses on Facebook, or pointing to additional information on Twitter. And of course there’s television news, which has managed to provide constant coverage on every aspect of the disaster: graphics explaining the intricacies of nuclear power plants, explanations of the science behind tsunamis, and weather people (?) explaining how plate tectonics work. (I have never understood why the meteorologists are tasked with explaining geologic science, but I think that’s a post for another day, and probably another blog.)
What I have trouble understanding is why there are some who penalize others for not having the same singular focus on the disaster as they have. I can’t recall how I came across this post, but there are a few points that Ruth Reichl’s “Why Food Matters” piece illustrates perfectly. For those unfamiliar with Ruth Reichl, I won’t be able to do her biography justice here, but I will try. She’s a food editor and writer, was the last editor of the category-defining Gourmet Magazine, and her restaurant reviews written when she was the restaurant critic for the New York Times could “make or break” a restaurant. She’s a big deal. And for those of us who are “foodies” she’s a VERY BIG deal.
Last Friday, she posted an innocuous Tweet. And apparently had the wrath of a Twitter follower immediately heaped on her–the response was “What planet are you on? The one WITHOUT thousands dying from an earthquake? SO FINE?!?!?!”
Here’s the important part. Reichl gets up early to write, and was unaware at that point that the earthquake had happened.
See what happens here? When we are using social media, and come across some news, there’s an assumption that everyone else who is on social media is aware of the same things, at the same time. It can be hard to fathom, that in this world of constant information that news of that magnitude hasn’t reached everyone at the same moment. But it is entirely possible, and people need to remember that.
The way it was handled was remarkable too. Reichl could have just ignored it, but instead wrote a measured, graceful blog post in response. She didn’t name the person on Twitter. She didn’t get angry or defensive. And the person who had bitten her proverbial head off with that Tweet responded in the comments–also with grace. The whole exchange was so adult. So civilized. And so unlike what we normally see on blogs, or for that matter, on the evening news.
The exchange worked because people communicated, rather than talking past one another. Communication matters.