Friday, April 19, 2013

7 Quick Takes, Vol. 38: How do you spell Chechnya?

This week has been horrific. The number of families ripped apart by violence is heart-wrenching, and as I write this, hundreds of police officers and firefighters are putting their lives on the line to try and keep us safe. First responders, doctors, and nurses have been working overtime this week to try and mend and comfort the wounded. Let's remember all of them in our prayers.

On a happier note, Jen and her family are all home together again! Let's continue to pray for their good health and peace, along with a speedy recovery for Jen.
Emily and Erin turn 10 months old tonight - that's so very close to a year old. And once again, thank you to Grace for hosting this week!

--- 1 ---
When I was six or seven years old, I walked into the school library and asked how to spell Chechnya. I wanted to know why they were always talking about it on the radio, and I knew by then that the best way to learn about something was to read. The poor librarian (probably a parent volunteer) had no idea how to spell it, and when we looked in the card catalog under "C", we didn't find any listings. I went home wondering why something could be so interesting to all the grownups but not exist at all as far as the library was concerned.
--- 2 ---
Fast forward twenty years, and Chechnya is one of the top trending terms on Twitter. Suddenly, everybody's interested. The connection to the tragic bombings in Boston earlier this week makes the tiny Russian province fascinating.  In the age of computer searches and Google, I doubt anyone wanders into a library looking for a mere book about something of interest, which is a shame. On the other hand, a curious first grader today would probably find all sorts of information at their fingertips. Today, everyone can be a journalist. Raw information is published as it happens, without regard to its truth or relevance. The more popular something appears to be, the more relevant it becomes, until it becomes difficult to synthesize the truth.
--- 3 ---
As more violence unfolded in Boston last night, I saw over and over again how disappointed people were with the lack of news coverage. Random people, claiming that they were single-handedly usurping CNN, flooded Twitter with equally random bits of information. Apparently, listening to a garbled police scanner makes you an expert journalist, able to synthesize a complete story from a few overhead bits of information, often speculative information at that. Following the hashtag "#watertown" last night, I saw claims that the news media were going dead overnight, because Twitter was the best source for what was really going on.
--- 4 ---
In full disclosure of my personal bias, I have a degree in journalism, and I feel confident saying that the traditional news media are here to stay. There's a simple reason: a news story is comprised of more than just the facts. You have to fit the pieces of the puzzle together, and judge the credibility of your sources. Up to the minute information is useless if someone doesn't connect the dots and explain how it all fits into the story line. Think about it: if you've ever followed an election or watched any type of sporting event, you know that the final story is often quite different than what went on from beginning to end, or at any point in between. We rely on the knowledge and experience of journalists to tell the story as truthfully as possible. If we begin to rely solely or even partially on a collection of random information from random people, without regard to truth or relevance, we are selling ourselves short.
--- 5 ---
In addition, there are times when it's better not to share what you know for the safety of others. As I watched information spew forth on Twitter last night and early this morning, I wondered how many obsessed with sharing whatever they'd heard were considering the officers who put and are putting their lives on the line to protect the citizens of Boston. Was tweeting the location of the operation really necessary? The foolish shortsightedness of broadcasting police scanner info in such an easily obtainable format really makes me wonder if Twitter kept the police from intercepting both suspects last night. I'm reminded of a saying during World War II, and probably much older than that: "Loose lips sink ships." Sharing up-to-the-minute information about an ongoing police operation means that the suspect in question just needs a smartphone to stay one step ahead of law enforcement, or worse, plot more violence against them. We have unprecedented access to broadcast ourselves - let's prove that we're deserving of the privilege.
--- 6 ---
As a runner, my heart has been particularly heavy this week. Running is a risky sport for a few different reasons: you tend not to have a protected area in which to practice, you are prone to overuse injuries at a particularly high rate, and you are exposed to the weather year round in many cases. If you'd asked me Monday morning what the biggest risk of running the Boston Marathon was, I'd have answered something like dehydration or muscle strain, maybe tripping and falling amidst the crowd. Bombing probably wouldn't have crossed my mind. While it seems possible that running was merely a target for the large crowd of people the race presented, it's particularly difficult to see a sport I love attacked with such extreme violence. My heart aches for those who will never dissociate the terror of Monday afternoon from the joy of running, and especially for those who will never run or watch a race again.
--- 7 ---
I'll leave you with this thought: in the wake of a week like this, perhaps it's best to focus on what we can do instead of how helpless we feel. We can pray, we can hug those we love and tell them that we love them, and we can do our best to be Christ to all with whom we come in contact. Be safe, dear friends.
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