The Boston Marathon Bombings and Social Media

General Geekiness

Shortly before 3 on Monday, 15 April, I looked on Twitter. The BBC reported that there were two explosions at the Boston Marathon’s finish line. A quick Google search revealed nothing.

45 minutes later, my dad sent me a text message letting me know the same thing. Friends in Scotland started sending me messages, ‘Are you okay? You weren’t in Boston today, were you?’ Friends in the Boston area used Facebook to let their friends and family know that they were safe. It was a relief, the ability to look at a specific friend’s page and see the word ‘Safe’ as a status update.

The outpouring of support to the victims, to the first responders. The video of fans singing the national anthem at the Bruins game. Tears, relief, all present in the days immediately following the Marathon bombing. Steven Colbert’s hilarious and touching tribute. The words Boston Proud, Boston Strong.

When the FBI released the images of Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev on Thursday afternoon, within minutes their faces were plastered across Facebook. A friend shared a photo that a citizen photographer had taken that captured both of thems, crisp, clearer than the ones released by the officials.

Friday morning. I woke up before seven, having tossed and turned a bit. I grabbed my phone, and jumped on Facebook. My alma mater (a Boston college) had a post saying that the college was closed for the day. I learned about the assassination, the shoot out, the ensuing man hunt. The car and license plates. That Dzhokar Tsarnaev was hiding in a boat, on land, in Watertown (and the ensuing ‘I’m on a boat’ jokes). Most importantly, that my friends were okay.

Social media is a powerful, powerful tool, spreading stories of heroism, images of national security, and messages of hope (rather than kids asking for a puppy). Sadly, it took a tragedy to see just how positive, powerful and effective it is.

This is what social media is good for, the rapid sharing of information. People watching out for each other. It was embraced, not only by the common man and journos, but by the police, the feds.

Facebook gets a bad rap. There’s the narcissism, the ill-thought drunken photos, that friend who posts memes left, right and center. The images of the bombers spread quicker than any meme I’ve seen. It’s a positive use, a ‘keep your eye out.’ You can’t run for long when the entire nation knows your face, and as it has been made clear (by, naturally, memes and viral videos) that you don’t mess with Bostonians.

Welcome back to America

American Adventures

Well. I’ve been back in America for a week, settled back in my childhood home. My room, clean for over a year as I lived overseas, is now stacked with books, shopping bags, and the contents of my backpack vomited over the floor.

It’s not been a bad week, by any means. It’s been busy. I now have an insanely professional wardrobe, including a gorgeous navy pinstripe pencil skirt suit, a blue dress the same colour as the Scottish flag (or the TARDIS) and fantastic heels. I’ve applied for several jobs, had one interview (which didn’t end with me getting the job, but that’s okay, it was my first interview Stateside. I’m lucky and rather awesome, but not THAT lucky).

I also have a brand-spankin’ new mobile, a smartphone, which means I’ve finally entered the 21st century. Also I can now tweet from where-ever I am in the US, which is both really awesome and really dangerous.

I still haven’t managed to read much. I got halfway through Life of Pi whilst on the various planes from Edinburgh to Boston, but since returning I’ve been using my tablet for Skyping with those still in Scotland and watching the first series of Downton Abbey instead of reading. Oops, bad former English major.

We are what we consume.

Edinburgh Expeditions

One thing that I try to do every week (or at the very least, every month) is attend events at Inspace, the University of Edinburgh Informatics Forum’s art space. The events I try to attend “blind.” I get the event emails from New Media Scotland, and sign up for the various events. I’ve attended lectures on memory and music (which resulted in my showing my inability to use a turntable in front of 75 people), a Pecha Kucha night (in which I stood up in front of a separate group of 75 and told stories of falling off of Arthur’s Seat), and a presentation by the Information Delivery Service (which resulted in no ridiculous stories from me).

IDS is a student cooperative fascinated with information, its readiness, their desire to have it all. The lecture, which I found interesting, was filled with information overload (and rather disjointed, lacking any coherent narrative flow, from which it would have benefited greatly). It did, however, leave me to contemplate how what we consume and create develops our identities.

I’ve recently started using Pinterest, that incredibly popular photo/lifestyle/dream-sharing website that’s been critiqued for everything from creating desires for unattainable lifestyles to dubious copyright infringement. What’s struck me as fascinating is, apart from its addictive qualities, Pinterest is able to give a ‘look’ to how we identify and how we wish to identify. It’s a means, like the Facebook info page, to divulge bits and pieces about ourselves to the world.

We are what we consume. We’re made up of the books that we read, the music that we listen to, the clothing that we wear. We identify through media, with ourselves and with each other. When getting to know one another, we ask about what sort of books we read, movies we watch, music we listen to. We find common ground and relate to it, often through what we enjoy.

If one were to look at my bookshelf, one would find a few books of critical theory (Guattari, Ranciere, Postman and McLuhan), philosophy (Hume and Marcus Aurelius), novels (John LeCarre and Margaret Atwood coexist, Raymond Chandler recently moved to the bedside table), my DVD collection of The Prisoner, a small CD collection (The Smiths and The Jam), and a few art books (exhibition guide to The Queen Art & Image, the exhibit I saw on my first day in Edinburgh). One can start to suss things out about me, just from what I choose to share about my intellectual consumption. I’m interested in media and environments, spies, and music made before I was born.

I see the world filtered through what I consume. Far too much of what I experience or think about is influenced by The Prisoner, even my potential dissertation topic for this degree. The thought of being without my DVDs in a foreign country was too much to bear. I even started reading books like Le Carre’s for research before realising how much I love them (okay, I’ve always enjoyed these stories, far more than I have the books that I’m “supposed to like”).

And I hate for the pretension that comes with saying, “I am an artist” but it’s true. I am an amateur painter, perhaps someday a professional digital artist (my dissertation, with hope, will kickstart that). But I read books on art, I examine it, I enjoy it, I consume it.

The presentation made me think only of this.