Japan – a few stray thoughts

by Steve

Before and after satellite shots of JapanI’ve mulled over whether to post anything about the events in Japan for a few days now. It is hard to think of anything meaningful or worthwhile to add. While “meaning” or “worth” are pretty flimsy concepts when it comes to most of my silly blogging topics, this is obviously quite different. In the grand scheme of things, what does my opinion matter? And why should I be even thinking in those terms in the face of thousands of deaths and a major nuclear crisis?

But how we react to disasters or tragedies seems to be an issue. There is a real difficulty in placing such events into a meaningful context.

Twenty-four hour news hypes the smallest happenings as BREAKING NEWS. I remember when a television newsflash was a clear indicator of a major, often historic, news story breaking.

Now it is not so simple. How many people took all of Friday to realise how serious the earthquake and tsunami were? How many people are wary of taking any meltdown talk seriously? How many people are so desensitised to news that they just don’t take an interest?

Conversely, the immediacy of the internet and rolling news has (potentially) brought us a greater insight into the disaster. Amateur footage, before/after satellite images and access to a wealth of experts has given us more information than we may have had in the past.

Yet, it still feels like we lack a filter to give the event a real meaning and context. It is a complex situation in Japan. Explaining nuclear technology and geology and disaster management is not straightforward. But without any guidance, interpretation or commentary, is this glut of information any use to us? Or does this abundance of media, which should bring us closer to the story, actually make it all the more incomprehensible?

Or perhaps such horror, such terror and such loss is incomprehensible no matter what the broader media offers us? Or maybe we need a degree of distance before we can properly start to make sense of events?

However, I do wonder if we will begin to ask questions of nuclear power, or preparing for natural disasters, or of how best to relay news. Beyond the incredible human toll of this disaster, will we be capable of learning from this disaster? Or will all this eventually be forgotten, hidden under yet another BREAKING NEWS banner? I hope not.

Image from NASA Goddard Photo and Video, via Flickr