When Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried Pompeii it was not caught on camera, let alone made almost instantly viewable around the globe. But the tsunami in South Asia, beyond the terrible human cost, may be remembered years from now as a tipping point in human connectivity -- a nexus of communications technology and catastrophic disaster first previewed on 9/11/01 but put on full display in late Dec. 2004 as various amateur footage of the giant destructive waves came flooding in. Today, the Wall Street Journal looks at the role blogs played in disseminating the footage on the Web, and to some degree via television.
"Even before the tsunami, media watchers had predicted that 2005 would be a big year for video blogging, also known as vlogging. Jay Rosen, chair of the Department of Journalism at New York University and a media blogger himself, says the unique videos of the waves hitting shore could be a 'breakthrough' event for the Web.
"To obtain the videos, many bloggers linked to TV Web sites, pulled them from Internet bulletin boards or snatched them from each other, in a chaotic rush to make the unedited scenes available to curious surfers. There's a big premium for dramatic videos showing the moment the waves hit land. Some TV networks, in turn, were alerted to amateur videos first by bloggers."
The widely seen video of an elderly couple overpowered by a wave, filmed at the Kamala Beach Hotel near Phuket by a Swedish tourist named Tommy Lorentsen, is a prime example of how the phenomenon played out.
"Reached in Thailand, Mr. Lorentsen said he salvaged the tape from his camera after it was soaked and gave a copy to Fredrik Bornesand, a Stockholm police detective who appears in the footage trying to rescue the couple. Mr. Bornesand handed a CD of the clip to journalists with Norway's Dagbladet newspaper who then uploaded to their Web site on Monday. 'It wasn't too steady a shot, but we thought it would be good to show what happened,' says Det. Bornesand. The Phuket video has since been one of the most widely aired on television networks, but only after bloggers spread the word."
The fact that several clips of amateur digital video played over and over again on news networks like CNN and the BBC says a lot about the state of the media business with respect to the proliferation of digital technology. As Salon's Katharine Mieszkowski notes, with our cameras and cell phones (or the two as one) in tow, we're all "embedded" now.
Update: The photo sharing site Flickr reports that the number of images uploaded to the site tripled in the first two days of January, and that traffic has surged -- largely due to a flood of disaster photos.