Big events like a 5.8 earthquake in Washington D.C. that can be felt as far north as Toronto and as far south as South Carolina are always fun to analyze in terms of how different people get and spread their news and information.
Like many people in the East Coast, I was in my office when the rumbling began just before 2 p.m. on Tuesday. My initial thought was that it was a big truck hitting a pothole (my first thought the last time I felt an earthquake sitting in my dad’s church office in New Jersey many years ago). But the way the building kept trembling, it was obvious there had been a rare event in this part of the country: an earthquake.
The first thing I did was go to Twitter. And right away I discovered the source wasn’t local. Within seconds of logging on I saw tweets from folks in New York City, Toronto, New Jersey, Maryland and other areas of Pennsylvania and quickly found that the epicenter was in Virginia. In other words, I had the basic news within seconds of logging on to a social networking site, up to the second news I would not have found on television or my local newspaper’s website.
About 20 minutes later one of my co-workers who doesn’t tweet, do Facebook or spend much time surfing the internet paged the whole office to let us know that she called her husband who had found out from the news that there was an earthquake in D.C. It was almost comical to those of us who had already gotten the gist of what happened to hear her matter-of-factly present the news as though we didn’t already know. Even my boss, who doesn’t do Twitter or Facebook, had already found out what was happening by doing a simple web search and finding a website that tracks earthquakes.
Thirty-seven minutes later a mass email went out to the staff that was similarly comical in its late-by-21st-century-standards delivery of news. In it was a link to the “breaking news” from the New York Times about the quake.
While I’ll probably end up seeking out newspaper and TV news websites for more in-depth coverage of the earthquake and photos/videos, the #EastCoastQuake showed the power of the immediate. Like the massacre in Norway and countless other events I’ve followed as they happened through social media, Twitter was the reliable place to turn for information as it happened. Any other source seems almost laughably archaic and old-fashioned by comparison.