Saturday, January 07, 2006

Instant messaging

Stories in the news this week have shown us both the good side and the bad side of technologically mediated communication, specifically its power to transmit our messages across distances immediately.

First up is the story about the mine disaster in the States. The transcript of radio traffic with the emergency services shows the confusion about what was happening quite clearly. Asked what is happening and whether or not the miners have been found, Voice 2 (Matt) clearly hedges his statements, saying "they're all okay, I guess", "we might be transporting them", and "I'm not exactly sure". He does the same when asked if the miners are still alive, "as far as I know". These are positive comments but not unequivocal. But in the heat of the moment, with distraught families desperate to hear the best outcome not the worst, those hedged statements get lost. What gets transmitted in a second, because of the communications technology, is the story that all 12 men are alive. Bells are rung, families celebrate, hymns of praise are sung. And three hours later the terrible truth emerges.

The other story is about the Magic FM DJ who tried to save the life of a caller who had a heart attack in the middle of a live talkshow debate. When the line went silent, the DJ knew there must be something wrong. Calling the police didn't help, so using the immediacy of live radio he was able to alert the man's neighbours who knocked down his door, while he flicked the switch to continuous music and leapt in a cab to go and help. Sadly, the man died, but that power of immediacy at least enabled people who cared to try.

Emergency Radio Transcript of Mine Rescue

Anger as mine rescue hopes are dashed

Radio talkshow DJ rushes to help as caller dies on air


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