In preparation for a radio interview for NHPR's "Word of Mouth" I was prompted to answer a few more questions about the Japan earthquake:
I have not previously had such a clear case of "compare and contrast" as with this example of the Kobe quake in 1995 vs. the recent quake and Tsunami in northern Japan.
I discovered that the richer portrayal I am getting this time of what is going on is through the combination of traditional media, social media AND personal contacts I maintain through social media and other means. It's almost like different brush strokes of a painting, all of which help fill it out. I wouldn't have had the full picture if I didn't have all four devices there in front of me, as described earlier here and in this PBS MediaShift piece.
Print, TV and radio are relatively linear. You start at one point, keep going along a straight line, and then come to the end once you finish consuming. Digital, however, can be entered at multiple points, and the timeline and consumption pattern is up to you. It's many dimensions all at once. Perhaps I can say it’s 4D: length or top-to-bottom, start-to-finish [text or linear video or audio]; width or sideways [slideshows for example]; depth [links that let you jump through “stacks” of information]; plus time. I could compress time, by reading the posts of my friend on Facebook, who was sharing what she was seeing on TV. I could scan her wall posts all at once, and not have to watch for the full length of time she did to learn what was happening. I could combine the various dimension -- for example watch a TBS TV stream from Japan saying there are no deleterious health effects at the same time that someone on Twitter was worrying about whether they could go outdoors in Tokyo.
It also pointed up to me something that had always nagged at me when I was a foreign correspondent -- how little I, or anyone, could portray about the way things really were on the ground because we were limited to whatever constructs were there -- the breaking news wire report, the 45-second radio interview or 2-3 minute TV or radio spot, the 1,200, or even 3,000-word written piece. Inverted pyramid. The need to use space or time to explain the basic facts.
I usually monitor Twitter professionally, getting facts, figures, information, leads, and was surprised with how much of the raw Twitter stream was taken up with exclamations that were simply emotional, in Japanese. "How horrible!" "I can't believe this is happening." "Oh, No." "Wow". It brought home to me how people are using these media to get things off their chest in a way that they would use conversation for, and that others were jumping in to console or comfort them or share sympathy.
For those who would like to know more, or help, here is a link to a page of resources about the quake and Tsunami.