Revolutionary Measures

Hurricane force social media

Hurricane Sandy in West Harlem:  Building Dama...

The current US devastation from Superstorm Sandy is showing the positive – and negative – sides of social media and our reliance on technology. Already there have been over 4 million mentions of #Sandy on Twitter and Hurricane Sandy was the top phrase in the US on Facebook. People are using it to check on friends and relatives and update them on their own safety. And there have been some incredible pictures and videos of the storm and its aftermath posted on social media, which have then been picked up by online and broadcast media. Google has launched a map of affected areas, linking to power outages.

But we’re also seeing the downside of our technology addiction, and in particular the electricity needed to make it work. The over 5 million people without power obviously can’t communicate. And this hasn’t been helped by the datacentres hosting sites such as Gawker and the Huffington Post being knocked out by storm damage. As Jeff John Roberts of GigaOM points out drily, there’s no app for disaster survival. Many people have replaced battery powered FM radios with internet versions and most of us either don’t have landline telephones or have swapped to DECT phones that need electricity.

The emergency services are also affected – people have been asked to use text messages to communicate rather than mobile phones to avoid overloading networks, leaving capacity free for official traffic.

It could potentially get even worse if the crisis precautions at major East Coast data centres and network exchanges fail and they go offline. Yes, it’s the end of the internet for all of us, wherever we are located. Press exaggeration obviously, but there is potential for disruption as some sites go down. While this level of inconvenience is nothing compared to that being suffered on the ground it does show our reliance on the world wide web.

The good news is that most data centres are designed to withstand a disaster of this scale – and Cloud computing means that processing should be switched automatically to other locations across the globe. But it does show everyone that you can’t rely solely on technology – time to make sure that you’ve got a basic phone, lots of batteries and a torch just in case.

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October 31, 2012 Posted by | Social Media | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments