Monday, 29 August 2011


Natural disasters are awe-inspiring things. Far beyond human influence or control, it is hardly a surprise that they have always been credited to (or blamed on) the supernatural.

I've noticed, though, that the way we react to them is changing.

For a start, we find out about more of them, more quickly. March's Tōhoku earthquake hit the news so quickly that cameras were in the air in time to watch the tsunami hit. In years gone by, it would have been hours, days, weeks before we found out about it. During the Christchurch earthquake, shortly before that, tremors were being tweeted before they finished, and people were blogging in between tremors.

The reactions to disasters change as well. From a spectacle distant to us in both time and miles, live updates mean we are aware of more disasters on a day-by-day basis, so sometimes it looks as though they are increasing in frequency, which delights that certain breed of extremist ready to welcome the death of thousands as a sign of The End, or a reason to persecute those who don't follow their own rules (remember how New Orleans was apparently hit by the hurricane as a punishment for harbouring homosexuals?).

On the upside, we can get help to the victims more quickly, although sometimes the nature of that help needs to be more carefully thought out. Although I'm sure the Haitians were delighted with the delivery of 600 solar-powered bibles, I am thoroughly bemused by the assumption of so many churches that the first need of starving, thirsty, homeless people is for a really nice copy of the bible - Massachusetts congregations ordered 5000 French bibles for all those poor victims.

Anyhoo, that's a different rant.

What I'm thinking about right now is the strange connections the internet gives to disasters these days...
  • One of the first friends I made on the internet had to evacuate during forest fires in California.
  • A friend's sister was caught up in forest fires in Australia.
  • An ex-colleague and several iblers were caught in the Christchurch earthquake.
  • My wife has family who moved from Hawaii because of the storms. They now live near New York.
  • My mother was in Egypt during the last lot of trouble there.
  • And, of course, there are all the iblers caught in the path of Irene...
What's weird is not that I am concerned for the safety of my friends, of course I am, but that these connection make me, in some small way, a victim of all these disasters as well.

Not that I feel like a victim, but I feel their effects more acutely than I did in the years BI (Before Internet), and, you know what?

Rather than making me feel as though the world is out to get me, rather than making The End look ever closer, it makes me feel somehow more human.

No, I don't fully grok that yet, but I think it's a good thing.


  1. I really liked this post. :) The compassion is refreshing after seeing so much indifference, resignation, and exploitation to and of natural disasters and their victims.

    (And WTF is a solar-powered bible, anyway?)

  2. @Anonymous - it reads bible-passages out loud to those souls who cannot read it because they are too poor to learn to read.

    Personally, I'd have spent the money on food, water, shelter and education...