1 March 2011


All Hail Technology in the Wake of Tragedy

The past seven days have seen an intense period of chaos and unrest shake the world, as people have fled anti-government turmoil in Libya and, halfway across the globe, the devastated city of Christchurch, New Zealand, following last Tuesday's earthquake.

As the events of the past week unfolded news reports from Christchurch turned from bad to worse detailing buildings beyond repair, residents without power, a massive exodus from the city and a tragic death toll that has continued to rise.

With power and phone lines disabled through much of the city, people across the world then took to Facebook, Twitter and blogs to seek information about family and friends and to share their own experiences. For many, social media has been a saviour for those seeking some kind of solace in the wake of tragedy.

Here in the UK we have followed these tragic events as they have developed. And for a Kiwi like me, frustrated on the other side of the world, this has made a world of difference. Glued to my laptop since last Tuesday's event, I have watched the horrific video footage on YouTube, and scoured through heartbreaking images of the beautiful city I know like the back of my hand reduced to mindboggling ruins. 

The Caledonian Hall, where I spent much of my youth, is a wrecked shadow of its former self; the iconic Christchurch Cathedral, whose stone spire reached skyward from the city centre, overlooking the once-buzzing Cathedral Square below, now shattered to a pile of rubble.

This is the second major earthquake to have struck the 'Garden City' in five months, and since then Christchurch has endured countless aftershocks until this tragic, major blow. According to BBC News, engineers are saying that at least a third of the buildings in the centre of Christchurch will need to be demolished, while hundreds of damaged suburban homes may also have to be pulled down.

From following the Guardian's tweets to friends' status updates on Facebook, to donating to the Red Cross online and scouring every web news channel available, I have allowed the internet to put my somewhat guilty conscience to rest for not being there to help.

Twitter has been humming with names - inquiries about friends and family. "Safe!" says one. "Here I am," another. Being glued to the internet is a poor substitute for being there in person, but it is comfort for some of us nevertheless.

Streaming videos, like those you see on BBC News and YouTube, send a continuous flow of informative data to computers worldwide, while convenient and free iPhone apps enable those seeking knowledge to see the latest news and featured videos from news programmes directly on their smartphones.

And it is not just news that benefits - technology is evolving in leaps and bounds. It might not always save lives, but it can make life easier. Apps are being developed that might soon enable us to make payments using only our phones, so we can do without the need to carry credit cards, loyalty cards, paper vouchers and maybe even cash. Apparently there's even the future possibility of salaries being paid into i-Tunes accounts.

These technological advancements hardly help heal the world following these recent tragedies, but they certainly help those of us seeking a platform to communicate our thoughts, while even helping to lighten the mood, if only momentarily.

Via the BBC News website today I found a glimmer of good news in the form of invention: here in the UK a team of engineers at the University of Warwick have been working to help earthquake rescue teams by developing a robot capable of entering unstable buildings to look for any signs of survival. Such advancements might be too late for Christchurch, but the technology could potentially help rescuers in future earthquakes, and might lessen the tragic consequences. 


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