A disgruntled Austinite flew his private plane into a building down the street from where I work today. It happened this morning just before 10 am and within minutes the story began to unfold in real-time on the local then national news stations.
I don’t want to downplay what actually happened, but that news has been hashed over a million times already. It’s very unfortunate and sad that someone felt so desperate that they thought this was their only choice of action left. Thank goodness that, AFAIK, no one else was killed today.
For me, the most interesting story was the role that social media, in particular twitter, played in getting eye-witness accounts out to the traditional news outlets where it could be reported. The speed at which the information disseminated across the nation was impressive as I watched from the front row.
At just past 10 am this morning my office mate, Chris, rolled in like he had just seen a ghost. With much arm waving, he finally got it out that he had just witnessed a small, single-engine plane fly right over his car and into the building just down the street from ours. He said there was a huge fire-ball almost as wide as the building and he felt the heat from the blast through his air vents.
Like any 20-something software programmer would do, Chris decided to tweet what he had just saw. I retweeted him along with others. Within 30 minutes a local news channel had picked up his tweet and contacted him. A few minutes later his cell phone rang with a reporter grasping for details so they could hastily post this article in The Blotter at statesman.com (the local Austin newspaper) at 12:14pm.
By 12:30pm Chris sent me this link via gChat which contained an entire copy of a homicide letter written by a man named Joe Stack and left on his website, embeddedart.com. I read the whole thing over lunch.
My Google Chrome history page shows that I hit the New York Times at 3:16 pm to read about the national coverage of the story… on the front page only 5 hrs later.
At this point, it gets really interesting. Our office administrator walks into my office looking for Chris. She had CNN on the phone and they were looking for him to possibly do a TV interview and later another phone interview for HNL.
I’m certain that the news organizations pieced all of this together by utilizing twitter and internet search. It’s human nature to need to talk about exceptional experiences like the one that occurred this morning. In the age of social media these discussions can be picked up and tracked in real-time in an unprecedented way.
I am awed, if not a little frightened, by the power of what I just witnessed today. We live in a world where information is not only free, but it travels faster than any one person or organization could ever maintain control of… for the good of everyone today. This was an example of the power of social media used in a responsible way along side of traditional news organizations.
I’ll wrap this up with a quote:
Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect. – Eleanor Roosevelt