Why the Hawaii Tsunami Sent Me Screaming for Facebook

Jeanne Sager

hawaii tsunamiThe earthquake in Japan and the news that a tsunami was rolling into Hawaii were the first things I heard on the radio this morning. I did what I imagine thousands of Americans did this morning -- anyone with friends or family in Hawaii or Japan. I went straight to Facebook.

This is our way of coping with tragedy in 2011, our direct reaction to bad news. We don't sit by the phones. We hop on the Internet. And yet, we're told it's a bad thing.

If you've watched one of those ridiculous Bing commercials, you've heard it said that we're now overloaded by information on the Internet. There's too much to wade through. Doctors will tell you the same thing -- that patients are "too informed," to the point of hypochondria because Google University spits out as much wrong information as it does valid science.

But I couldn't start my morning routine or even report in to work until I'd read the words, "We are at home with friends, food, and water. No one is panicked, just in case someone is up and sees the tsunami warning." That was my cousin, and below were comments from other family members who had done the same thing this morning -- used Facebook to calm us down, to connect us to our loved one (and her two kids) in danger. That information slowed the frantic beat of the heart and allowed us to function again as normal people.

I confess I still left a rather frenetic message on her page, an "ARE YOU OK?" (yes, I "shouted," my apologies to the Internet gods), followed by my pledges of love. I wasn't cured of my worries so much as lulled into a semi-comfort. But then I could move on to the real business of the day. My first shot of caffeine, work, the chilling videos of the tsunami waves, water literally on fire because of the debris within, taking over the land.

Stopping to think out the altered pattern of my morning, I recognized not for the first time the way the Internet has shaped tragedy and our emotional reactions to it. I recall in 2007 sitting at my computer while my Hokie husband sat, open-mouthed and motionless, watching the round-the-clock TV coverage of the shooting on the Virginia Tech campus. It was then that I found Bryce's blog, the blog of the Tech student who hid in his room, typing, getting information out, telling his family he was OK even if friends were not. Even four years ago, blogs and Facebook were an instant connection.

Compare that day to one six years before. September 11, 2001. A different sort of tragedy, for sure, but huddled in a corner in my Virginia office making frantic calls to friends and family in NY only to come up with busy signals again and again, I would have killed for better Internet access, for Facebook, for something more. We watched the nonstop newsreel of the towers falling like we were drugged, drinking in each new bit of information like our lives depended on it. We craved more information then too. The lack of an in-depth Internet connection didn't change that.

In times of tragedy, I don't believe there can be too much information, don't buy that we can ever feel too assured. Reading my cousin's status this morning, I felt something lighten on my chest. It was a physical reaction. And yet moments later, watching those videos, something settled back onto me. I wanted to know more about A. and the kids. Where are they now? How high? HOW safe? It's like a drug, information is, but it's an addiction that comes from a good place, an emotionally healing place.

I will never get enough. How about you?

Image via Alex-s/Flickr

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