United 93, instead of becoming a weapon in terrorists’ hands that would have struck at America’s heart, become a symbol of heroism and resistance. And the reason that happened was because of the cell phone. Passengers on board the flight were able to gain information and assess risk thanks to the information they received through their phones.
Another tragedy, although thankfully not one of such great dimensions, brought to Ocean Guy’s attention the fact that the new technology means that every single person can become a news source, with pooled information having the potential to be much more accurate and swiftly assembled than anything the MSM can achieve. His daughter and her friends, all USC students, were at his home when that terrible fire took place. The young women were, of course, desperate for information:
Not all of the reports were accurate, and it took a while for the stories to come together… 6 missing, 7 missing, 6 dead, 4 got out… the first few minutes were confused, but the information kept flowing. Their network of friends were getting the story out through their cell phones and blackberries. We checked online and at first found nothing… nothing on the TV news either. Then, about noon, we got the first Google hits returning a basic outline of the story. But the girls were craving information and we were all frustrated at how slowly it was trickling out… their cell phone network was so much faster and surprisingly reliable.
As the girls pieced together the story and discovered the names of some of the victims, one of the old gatekeepers of the news, the AP was reporting that it would be several days before the names would be released. But through cell phones and IM’s and facebook, the story and names were already widely known.
(You can read the rest here.)
Clearly, this new media cannot replace the old media, because it conveys the news only to those who have connections. That is, I couldn’t have linked into this network with any intelligence, nor would I have been able to interpret any data I might have received.
However, his story does emphasize the fact that the old media is no longer the sole guardian of information. It is still a useful and, indeed, necessary clearinghouse for information, but it now must team with the people on the spot, or the people who know someone on the spot, to ensure story speed and accuracy.
The new technology also places on the old media the very difficult task of determining which citizen reporters are accurate and honest, and which are not. And as to that, given the various media scandals that have arisen when the old media was relying on its own people, one does worry how the old media will cope with yet another challenge to determining source veracity.