When I was a kid I remember the older generations asking eachother “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?”
I thought it was fascinating that some incidents were of such importance that they made the world freeze for a few minutes, hours, days, months. Back then I wondered – and feared – what ‘wolrd-altering’ events would cause the same shock waves throughout the world in my lifetime. (YES – I was a very precocious child…)
At the age of 32 I have now – sadly – experienced quite a few of those massive shock waves. And oddly, I’ve been travelling pretty much every time. Thus being able to follow ‘in real-time’ how the shockwaves were spreading from country to country, continent to continent.
- When Princess Diana died I was helping my parents move to Moscow. When we lft Copenhagen she was still alive. All the way driving through Sweden new bulletins of her critical condition constantly hit the car-radio and the gas-stations rapidly changed the newspaperadds – until finally, when we reached Stockholm and were about to board the ferry to Helsinki, news spread of her death. And for the days that followed, driving through the tiny Russian towns we followed the news of the funeralpreparations, the Queens reactions (or lack of same?) and the massive wave of sorrow rising in the British people.
- I got the news of 9.11. when my brother and I were flying out of Beijing – having helped our parents move from Moscow to Beijing. The flight back to Copenhagen was surreal. Everybody knew, but nobody mentioned anything. The inflight-entertainment-system showed yesterdays news and everybody was really quiet untill the moment we arrived in Copenhagen and everybody switched their cell-phones on, screaming “We’re OK”.
- And when the tsunami hit the Indian Ocean I was on my way from Beijing to Hong Kong. Again this strange feeling of numbers rising and rising everytime we grapped a newspaper. Everybody calling and mailing us asking “Have you heard?”
There is nothing strange or surprising in such massive events causing massive shock waves that flood the world. But it’s interesting to follow the dynamics – and interesting how the big waves cause new, smaller waves within the wave. For instance the newswave of Saddam Husseins execution caused new mediawaves discussion what to show in the media and reporting the news a kids who died playing “Execution”.
And it’s also interesting to see how the rise of the blogosphere has influenced the mediawaves. I recently heard a great talk Professor of rhetoric and communications G. Thomas Goodnight gave on the new global-local swirls cause my the new communication technologies. The abstract for the paper was as follows:
New communication technologies carry pictures, graphics, tropes and claims in swirls of contention and contestation across the world. Globalcommunication encourages discussion and documentation of events as well as rhetorical acts of display, conciliation, resistance, and aggression within and across social and political networks. Local events vault to the status of an international cause when the mimetic circulation of opinion pushes arguments across national frontiers. This paper examines select challenges and opportunities posed by emergent global local controversies over questions of immigration, religion, and the nation.
Coming from Denmark the recent cartoon crisis is still a very present example of this. It was a very sudden wake-up call from Denmarks fairytailish sleep where nobody – or at least not the politicians – had realised that newsstories today (if only slightly explosive) may spread rapidly across borders – in wavelike patterns and with tsunamilike powers. Neither had we realized that after the worst massive, uncontrollable storms it would be more or less forgotten in the rest of the world. We all thought it would change Denmarks reputation, export,politics and economics forever – but now, a year later, we still feel a few subtle waves. But most seems to back to normal (which is overall good – but it’s also somewhat bad and sad that we haven’t learned more from that experience).
I guess in that in Beslan, in the Madrid trains and London tube and in the Pakistani mountains they have more or less the same strange feeling of having been the focus of the world for a short while, and then more or less forgotten. Some African countries probalby wonder why it’s so hard to attract the worlds attention to their problems. And Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie probably wish they could get rid of the media wave, Kate Middleton knows that her wave will probably grow uncontrably in the coming years. And Paris Hilton sure knows how to start a new wave.
The waves are tough and overwhelming when they strike – but in the bigger scheme the wavy patterns show that even the most powerful tsunamies eventually loose their strenghs and are replaced by new waves. Even the tiniest wave may alter the life of one person – but it’s one wave in a million that rocks and shocks the world forever.
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