By now, most of you know that on August 23rd at 1:51 PM, millions of people from North Carolina to Ottawa felt a 5.9 magnitude earthquake that lasted about 45 seconds. Luckily, as I write this, there have been no reported fatalities or major damage and that’s the most important thing. In the time constrained and compressed world that most of us live in, I unwittingly found all I needed to about this event in 140 character increments over the course of approximately 10 minutes. As a result, after years of skepticism, the value of Twitter as a communications vehicle started to crystalize for me.
Here’s the background on how this unfolded for me. I was on the phone talking to a colleague when the shaking started and so we agreed to hang up to figure out what was going on. Instantly, I saw the Tweets posted on myTweetDeck dashboard. Two Forrester analysts commented from Cambridge that they felt it; MindTree Minds at a client location in Charlotte chimed in; as did a few others that I follow in Philadelphia and in the suburbs of Baltimore. Within a few more minutes, I received Tweet updates that the Pentagon was being evacuated and the White House could be next; that WDC and NYC airports were temporarily closed and the New York City MTA was reporting no major service interruption on city subways and buses. There were more updates that followed, including reports of sporadic cell phone service. Finally, when it was confirmed that the earthquake did not bring devastation, it was time for West Coast Americans to make fun of their East Coast brethren for making news about nothing. It only took about 10 minutes for those to hit.
There was a sprinkling of ‘old’ communication channel in use too: I received a phone call from a concerned colleague in India who read the Reuters headline on his Blackberry. Since I was working from home, I decided to turn to another old communication channel to learn more: I turned on the TV… None of the news outlets I turned on gave me any additional information that I hadn’t already learned through Twitter. In fact, none of them were able to give me the information I wanted in the short amount of time I had to devote to this “non-story,” but an interesting one nonetheless. Yesterday and for the foreseeable future, 140 character tweets allowed me to process and put in proper perspective the latest news event that “rocked my world.”
This experience had me asking hypothetically: How did any of us learn about life’s happenings before the advent of Twitter and smartphones? In other words, how did we survive just 5 years ago?