It was interesting both watching and doing the coverage of the Virginia Tech massacre today. As the afternoon progressed, it occurred to me that this story, while horrific and sad, was getting a huge boost from the technological know-how of the residents of that campus in Blacksburg.
This is Virginia Tech, after all — but even more than that, it’s the first big story to take place on a campus where everyone is connected, not only to everyone else, but to the world outside. Within minutes of the tragedy, cell phone video emerged, complete with the disturbing soundtrack of gunfire recorded by student Jamal Albarghouti. When the cell phone circuits became too busy to accomodate outgoing calls, students used MySpace and Facebook pages to reassure parents and friends that they were okay. They used instant messaging and e-mail to discuss with each other what had happened.
We were able to connect with Eric Frey, a former radio producer who left us to go to Virginia Tech to get his Masters. Unable to connect with his landline phone, my board op sent Eric a text message on his cell phone, and within minutes we had him on my show for a first-person account of what had transpired this morning. While we were doing that, a student journalist was appearing on a TV newscast via webcam from his room during the lockdown. The university itself kept posting updates on its homepage, and the Roanoke Times provided continuous coverage via a blog on its website.
Tonight, students are using Facebook and MySpace to leave condolences on the pages of those who died, forming an impromptu online memorial. For those who have said that spending time online is creating a world of lonely, singular people, here’s proof that there is a real community there, sharing experiences of one very bad day.