This morning I made myself a coffee, grabbed my laptop and settled down on the couch to check my favorite news and social websites. If this was 1990 I would have reached for the local newspaper, or maybe turned on the television. Oh, how times have changed. At least good coffee is a generational constant.
As I was browsing reddit.com, a satellite picture of a cyclone off the coast of Australia caught my eye. It took me about 37 seconds to read the comments and discover that a) this was not a historic archive, because b) Cyclone Yasi hit the northeast coast of Australia about four hours ago, and is currently wreaking havoc. It’s also nighttime in Queensland right now, which make events like a category five cyclone all more the frightening for local residents.
I then checked out The Australian online to confirm the news. NEWS CONFIRMED. In the image above, you can see the cyclone’s eye about to touch down on Aussie soil. Towns up and down the Queensland coast are in a state of emergency.
Wanting to share this news with my American friends here in Tennessee, I logged into Twitter and checked the latest world trends for a useful hashtag reference. #tcyasi was listed in the top 5. Perfect. Less than four hours, and the entire world is already privy to a currently-in-action natural disaster on a fairly isolated continent. By localizing the Twitter trend region from “world” to “Australia”, Cyclone Yasi took over seven of the top ten listings.
Reflecting on the three minutes it took me to find and process this news, some noteworthy points arose:
One: Younger generations do not rely on traditional news sources as their primary source for information. These days, news quickly spreads from one medium to the next, exponentially expanding reach and readership. Social networks are rapidly becoming the bedrock for news dissemination.
Two: With the ability to “upvote,” “downvote,” “retweet,” or “hashtag,” users of these social networks are absolutely setting the agenda of what issues are important, and what issues rise up to the front page of search engine lists.
Three: Trained journalists are skilled writers who (hopefully) abide by a code of ethics and morals, but in 140 characters or less, anyone can share any experience or thought. If, in the case of a natural disaster, enough people do the same, hundreds, thousands, or even millions of everyday people become pseudo-reporters.
The impact social networks are having on all levels of the news media is irreversible. Social networks are here to stay, and will continue to grow and develop as more global citizens begin to harness the power of instant, digital communication.
Finally, please keep Australia and its northeast residents in your thoughts, and donate to the cause if you can.