As Hurricane Sandy tore across the mid-Atlantic coast, USC students with family back east could only sit and wait.
Between smartphones, the Internet and 24/7 news networks, people today maintain an unprecedented ability to engage with another.
Nevertheless, Hurricane Sandy’s destruction serves as a reminder of the limitations of these technologies.
Skype, Facebook, Twitter and cell phones allow students to come to USC from all over the world and feel as if they almost never left home. Roughly 37 percent of the fall 2012 freshman class is from out of state, and 12 percent hails from outside the country. Technology, though, allows any distance to feel marginally smaller. It provides students the capacity to constantly stay in touch with loved ones across the globe.
During times of a natural disaster that results in power outages and the loss of cellular service, however, even the 24-hour news cycle offers little comfort. Media outlets detail the scariest stories of exploding substations, hospital evacuations and building collapses, but don’t provide consistently updated, hyper-local stories that might better serve people searching for information.
Time took take a step in the right direction by giving five photographers from different places on the East Coast access to its Instagram account. Time’s photography director, Kira Pollack, explained the decision in Forbes.
“We just thought this is going to be the fastest way we can cover this, and it’s the most direct route,” she said.
Unfortunately, a disaster as sweeping and unpredictable as Sandy — a storm spanning hundreds of miles and affecting the areas it hits with varying severity — limits this type of coverage. It just isn’t practical or imaginable that a news outlet could have a reporter in each and every affected town and city along the coast, from Georgia to Maine.
Time’s creative photo coverage certainly offered a more precise picture of how Sandy was impacting different areas. But when a person is separated from his or her family by hundreds or thousands of miles, such photos aren’t going to provide the same reassurance as a report filed directly from the family’s town. And unfortunately, coverage from local news outlets can stall as a result of power outages.
This was an opportunity for national news outlets to turn to social media, where hyper-local information was abound. Before, during and after the storm, people with Internet access or smart phone data plans were constantly updating statuses on Facebook and Twitter, and Twitter even created a blog post to inform people which accounts would be most helpful to follow for information from specific regions of the East Coast.
National news networks could easily have taken advantage of this constant stream of information. They could have fact-checked and published some of these updates online or used them to help in their own reporting.
In a world where 24/7 communication is a staple, and the ability to connect with loved ones from across oceans allows students to move farther and farther from home, Sandy reminds us that these modes of communication are not perfect.
Though these limitations shouldn’t paralyze students into avoiding traveling far from home, it is still important to recognize and remember they exist.
Sonali Chanchani is a freshman majoring in English.