Hurricane Sandy Blows Into The Mobile Era
Hurricane Sandy will be remembered for many reasons. Some will remember it as a turning point in the 2012 Presidential Election. Others will remember it a tipping point in the climate change argument. Others still will remember it as yet another example of the sometimes-down-but-never-out spirit of New Yorkers.
I will remember it as the first disaster of the “mobile era.”
I’ve always been fascinated at how “analog” we become during crises. The film 28 Days Later captured our back-to-basics tendency perfectly when the lead character emerges from a coma to discover an evacuated London littered with “missing persons” signs pinned to billboards, tacked to telephone polls, blowing in the wind. When the chips are down, people return to fundamentals – and nothing’s more elemental than ink on paper.
In many ways this behavior is fitting. After all, what good is a computer if there’s no Internet connection? What value does a video camera provide if there’s no screen on which to display the images it captured? In other words, we don’t return to basics when infrastructure fails us; we do so because infrastructure fails us.
Sandy may have bent the East Coast’s mobile infrastructure, but the superstorm didn’t break it. As a result, those affected relied on their mobile devices for communication, aid and community.
Authorities issued mass SMS messages to evacuate entire districts. Entrepreneurs turned chaos into art with sites like #instacane. Field workers published from-the-trenches videos for hundreds of thousands to experience. Drivers created hashtags to let one another know where sparse gas was available. Apps emerged as a viable channel for donation. Humor persisted with 45,000 people checking into “Frankenstorm, NY” on Foursqure. And, in one truly remarkable case, a touch screen literally lit the way for a baby to be delivered.
But the role mobile played in Sandy transcended technology. It also affected culture. Collaboration, both great (T-mobile and AT&T combined networks to maximize coverage) and small (an 11 year old girl created a “pop-up” charging station for the battery-depleted), reminded us what truly special people call New York and New Jersey home.
This deck, designed by Jake McKibben and researched by Lauren Pedigo, is not a celebration of technology. Nor is it a victory lap for mobile. But make no mistake: it is a celebration. It’s a celebration of the triumphant spirit of the entire tri-state area, a spirit that was aided by these amazing devices that allowed strangers to lift one another up in ways that nobody would have imagined before Sandy’s winds blew.