We’ve had smartphones for a while and earthquakes and tsunamis for far longer. But the growth of smartphones has helped turn natural disasters like the Japanese earthquake into far more personal, powerful and real-time events for both the people on the ground and the many more around the world consuming the news.
Many woke up today and got their first taste of the devastating earthquake from their smartphones, perhaps through Twitter or Facebook apps. That’s how I learned of the event, still groggy in my bed. In the past, I would have had to fire up the computer or turn on the TV to find out about the disaster. But for many now, news like this is much more immediate with the ability to consume so much of it at any time on a handset. And since we turn to our phones first before we do anything, they really become our first source of news.
Real-time mobile apps like Twitter on a smartphone are really heightening the experience for consumers of news. It’s in these moments when you see the power of Twitter to share not only the news but how its affecting so many people. Twitter usage out of Tokyo was topping 1,200 tweets a minute in the first hour after the earthquake. Others were turning to mobile apps from Japanese TV broadcaster NHK World TV and others to get live video of the aftermath. Users over here were tuning in and sharing prayers and well-wishes within minutes. And as we extend our Twitter networks internationally, we also have a greater chance of getting a more personal look at news as its happening around the world. Smartphones are helping make this consumption of news personal by finding us where we are and allowing us to jump right into the conversation.
And what many smartphones users here found was that a lot of news was also being broadcast and shared by smartphone-wielding consumers. Capturing disaster video is nothing new, but the ability to get out quick word on the first rumbles and the cascading impacts are really amazing to see. There is almost no lag now between the time it takes to see something, record and upload it remotely. Networks constraints can be a barrier, especially in an emergency, but if the airwaves are open or Wi-Fi is available, sharing from a phone has much more reach and power than ever before.
I flipped back through my Twitter stream and Facebook feed and saw the first reactions from friends sharing through smartphones. Other users are capturing riveting firsthand video of the initial moments, the stuff you now see leading on CNN. It’s amazing how instinctively many people reach for their smartphone to document stuff that’s happening, even when their life is in peril. But that’s the power of the smartphone: it’s arming people with the ability to capture and share events as they happen. I wouldn’t put this ahead of protecting yourself but the smartphone seems to inspire people to document at all times.
Yes, cell phones have been capturing this stuff for years. But the widespread use of smartphones, with their broadcast communications apps and video-capturing abilities are proviinge content that’s far more powerful than a text and far more immediate. On the receiving end, the connection is more personal, rendering the news much more powerful. It also arrives quickly and minute-by-minute, putting the disaster in real-time, again making it more powerful. It’s events like the earthquake in Japan that illustrate how short the news loop can be for smartphone users.