The tsunami will, overwhelmingly, be remembered as a catastrophic natural disaster. But it also marks a milestone in the development of the internet. At first it was total failure. The information revolution that can extract or send data from anywhere in the world in a fraction of a second, failed to transmit news of the doomsday waves to those affected despite a window of several hours during which potential victims could have been warned. Somehow the world’s fax machines, emails, mobile phones, satellite phones, internet cafes, computers and texters failed to link up in a way that could have warned enough people in the path of the tsunami who could have spread the alarm. As a result tens of thousands of people died who might have had time to move to higher ground. This could easily be solved and must never be allowed to happen again.
Since that early systemic failure the internet has turned itself into an angel of deliverance. There has been an explosion of web sites on the internet and blogs (online journals) helping rescue work and also raising money for charities at a speed never known before. In Britain £45m had been raised by yesterday, much of it through online contributions which might not otherwise have been made. Hundreds of sites have been set up, mainly by volunteers, to identify victims and to coordinate rescue work. Yesterday a website was launched in Hong Kong enabling internet users worldwide to upload pictures of missing relatives which can be automatically scanned against a database of photographs of victims in Phuket, Thailand. It may be expanded to cover other affected areas.
This displays the awesome power unleashed by the internet when its global network of communications is allied to the community spirit that drives so many of its activities. There is one more task to do. The web’s army of volunteers must ensure that the follow-through is effective once the powerful but transient presence of the world’s media moves on to another place. They have a big role to play through blogging and web cameras to keep the world focussed on the massive reconstruction work that will have to be done before normal service can be resumed. So often in the past promised resources have not materialised once the initial horror has waned. If the internet community can help keep the world’s politicians on continuous alert, it will be even more deserving of our gratitude.
Security moms, girlie men, and values voters may look back in a few months and wonder where the catch-phrases we all lived by in 2004 went.
Fact is, they will simply give way to a whole new batch destined to have their 15 or so minutes of fame.
Frankly there should be a very large “coalition of the willing” eager to say good-bye to the detritus and buzzwords – political and otherwise – of the year just ended.
Bring it on, President Bush said in defiance of Iraqi insurgents. Bring it on, said Democratic candidate John Kerry in a reference to discussing national security issues with the President in their debates. But though Mr. Kerry might well have won all three debates, and sent all those Deaniacs to the woodshed in Iowa, we would say let’s not bring it on, but instead thumb those catch-phrases out of here.
Not that 2005 is going to be that much better. Mr. Bush is using the phrase “ownership society” in connection with his effort to dismantle Social Security. He should be careful what he spends his “mandate” and political capital on, because if all the income safety-net programs are dismantled, the economy might just go in the tank next Christmas.
“Reverse the curse,” the Red Sox fans prayed fervently, but now that the Bambino apparently has forgiven the Crimson Hose for selling him to the New York Yankees, what excuse will they offer for lousy seasons in future?
Is any part of Baghdad really a “green zone” in the horticultural sense?
In the continuing debate about what brand of car to buy, is it really appropriate to ask the question “What would Jesus drive”? But in 2004, a lot of people asked.
While we are on the subject of words, Lake Superior State University has issued its annual List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-Use, Over-Use, and General Uselessness. The words were chosen from among 5,000 entries.
Among these were “metrosexual” (an urban male who pays too much attention to his appearance, but could be taken for one who seeks sexual encounters on the subway); “companion animals,” known to your father’s generation as pets; “embedded journalists” or embeds, which sounds either like a painful growth in a sensitive part of the body or a new generation of robots.
Well, you go to war with the cliches you have, not necessarily the ones you might like to have. Another edict bans “smoking gun” instead of hard evidence; “shots rang out,” and “in harm’s way” which was a good title for a John Wayne war flick, perhaps, but as one writer noted “Who is Harm and why would you want to get in his way?”
And thanks for the most part to professional athletes, we gained yet another new expression in 2004: “It is what it is.” Not sure just what that means, but well, it is what it is.
Many other cliches are out there that ought to be chilled but never chosen.
In the meantime we’ll climb into our Swift Boats, cruise over to Little Gitmo, and try to Stop-Loss this Jib Jab before it really gets out of hand.
And, whoever thought of this editorial idea, here’s another of 2004’s hot-button expressions for you – you’re fired!