Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Memorable Mediated Experience

I first made a Facebook account when I was only a freshman in high school. I never would have thought that one day Facebook would be a medium through which I would received major news updates. In my mind it was basically another MySpace, simply a tool to keep a tab on my friends. News came from newspapers or news shows on the television. However as Facebook developed, and as my friends grew older and more aware of current events, the Facebook newsfeed became a source of information. If something was getting a lot of attention in the media, you could bet it was being posted about all over Facebook. This supports the publicity model mentioned by Hanson - the idea that simply coverage in the media makes a topic important, regardless of what is being said. One particularly memorable event that I first learned about through Facebook was the tsunami in Japan.

It was sometime past midnight on Friday, March 11th. I was browsing the internet, listening to music, talking to people online and of course, checking my Facebook every fifteen minutes or so. During one of these routine checks I began to notice many statuses about Japan filling up my newsfeed. Some posts were rather informative, telling me exactly what time the earthquake hit and the magnitude of the tsunami while others were more emotional, expressing compassion for the Japanese. After getting all the information I could from Facebook I quickly turned to news sites online, like Cnn and Bbc, to confirm what I learned from the constant group communication on Facebook and to find out more about the disaster.

I soon learned exactly how awful the situation was. It was a magnitude 9 earthquake that had set off the tsunami. The waves were tremendous and powerful, destroying everything in its path. Buildings, houses, and cars, nothing really stood a chance up against the 30 foot walls of water. The results of the tsunami were already devastating and it was clear that it had only just begun.

When I read about the disaster on Facebook and various news sites, I was reading numbers and measurements. It felt as if I was taking in data; the size of the waves, the magnitude of the earthquake, the estimated death toll. However, when I turned to video and began watching actual footage of the waves sweeping across Japan I felt more upset by it. A disaster is sad regardless, but nothing can evoke emotions the way a video or a picture can. There was also the fact that the video was a live feed. I was literally sitting in my bed watching the tsunami as it happened. In one way, this made it all the more real, to know that I was watching a tragedy unfold before my very eyes. On the other hand, it was slightly off-putting to watch something so awful happen in the comfort of my own bed, in my own house. I had iTunes open, and episode of Friends playing in a separate tab, and a game of solitaire going on. Watching it in real time made me feel more connected to the tragedy, but doing it at such a distance in such a non-serious way made me feel a little disconnected. It brings to mind Neil Postman's point in the textbook. Postman believes that we take in news in an entertaining form, surrounded by commercials and other trivial things. He believes this desensitizes us to the information we receive, enabling us to think about a tragedy for only a few seconds until turning to another channel or watching a commercial. Watching the tsunami on the internet in the comfort of my bedroom made me see that there is some validity to his point.

Despite the distance between where I live and Japan, and the many differences between our cultures, I was able to sympathize with their plight. As Baron says, culture can divide us, but it can also unite us. No matter where a natural disaster hits, and no matter who it effects, every culture can empathize. We all become a part of the larger human culture and are able to rise above the differences of our subcultures. The media facilitates this coming together of different cultures by showing us that no matter what sub culture we may belong to, we can all be effected by natural disaster.

Looking back, I can still recall the feelings of sympathy for the Japanese and awe of the tsunami. Now I realize how the medium affected the message. Watching videos of the tsunami on the internet gave me a better idea of the true scope of the disaster. I am also now more aware of Facebook’s role in my news acquisition. The internet made my experience of the tsunami more real because of the live footage, more than it would have been had I only read about it.

Sources Used

Hanson, Ralph E. Mass Communication: Living In A Media World. 3rd Ed. Washington: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2011.

What is Culture?, S. Barron


  1. I agree with the statement "watching it in real time made me feel more connected to the tragedy, but doing it at such a distance in such an non-serious way made me feel a little disconnected."
    With all of the new mediums and technologies we use to get our news everything is a lot more instant. You can be watching a car chase, a volcano erupt, or a tsunami so huge that it will destroy anything in its path, and be safe and sound in your own bed! Sometimes we do feel a lot closer to or connected to the event because we're seeing the actual images that people near the site see. Watching it in such a casual environment can have the opposite effect as well. As viewers we can turn it off, or tune it out with the click of ONE button.
    In a way I think these instantaneous ways of recording news and being able to watch the live footage as it's happening, has changed the world. We can feel more connected to the people across the globe just by accessing something on the Internet.

  2. Sara, I remember finding out about the tsunami the same way. I woke up early that Friday morning and decided to check my Facebook. I saw hundreds of status updates, videos, pictures, twitter feeds and just about everything else. When I first saw a video of the tsunami, it was horrifying because I wasn't sure if I was watching real life or a movie. In that moment, I was able to sympathize with all those whose lives have been affected by the tsunami, but I also felt helpless because all I could do was watch.
    Technology has greatly affected the speed and accessibility of communication. As you mentioned, there are many pros and cons of processing news so quickly. Many people living in this digital age can agree with "it was slightly off-putting to watch something so awful happen in the comfort of my own bed, in my own house." It’s a surreal feeling to be completely engaged in an event one minute, and then looking around your room the next; no longer attached to the experience.