December 28, 2004

The Catastrophe Is Being Televised 

The catstrophic tsunami that sweeped the coasts of India, Sri Lanka, Maldives and South East Asia is current news. As I've heard from various experts, the quake which originated the phenomenon released a staggering amount of energy, in the order of magnitude of Gigatons - when the most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated was barely one thousandth of that. A section thousands of kilometers long of a geological plate shifted by 20 meters in a few seconds, sending powerful wawes into the surrounding sea.

There is a wealth of audio-video footage of the giant wawes crashing on peaceful beaches and turist resorts: in these days, when one out of two people own an audio/video recording device like a camcorder or a camera phone, having plenty of footage is not surprising. But the open issue is what will be done with all the data. For one thing, the public awareness of this tragedy will be unprecedented, and I suppose those populations will receive better aid than ever before.

There are also risks, and one is the cheapening of the catastrophe: when the same video, altough dramatic, is aired over and over again, it loses its impact and becomes something ordinary, maybe even annoying. It is said that humans can adapt to the most incredible situations, so it's likely that our hearts may be hardened by repeated, chapened exposition to other people's sufference and misery.
Another risk is that those images will become snuff, and end up exciting those sick people with a morbid fascination for death and destruction.

Those are only a few of the new challenges and risks of this information and electronic age. But I think that they're exciting, not scary challenges and risks worth taking.

Wretchard looks at this story from another angle: what lessons can be learnt from rare but destructive events, and from the even more puzzling case of a never-happened-before event? (The lesson is disquieting and does not offer the comfort of a pleasant lie).


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