How communications changed your view of the world.

Way back in a past life when I was a regular member of a library (when I had fewer plates to spin), I picked up a book called Krakatoa The Day the World Exploded. In addition to all the disaster details about the numbers killed, how they died and how Krakatoa differed to a lot of other volcanic eruptions in the area, one of the things which struck me was how the changes in communication technology at the time caused that to have greater in depth reporting in Europe than pretty much any previous similar – for a given value of similar given that the Krakatoa disaster was historically noteworthy – on account of the telegraph.

You could see this earlier this year when Japan suffered its megaquake and tsunami – the news spread like wildfire around the world because it’s just so easy.

About an hour ago, north western Canada was hit by a 6.7 (currently this is what the USGS is giving for it). It’s not a particularly highly populated area and the epicentre appears to have been some distance from the closest major population centres. I picked up the news on twitter which is where I get most of my news and from there went straight to the USGS. Another of my friends gets a push notification on his phone for any earthquake measuring greater than 5.0.

I’m not a geologist. I’m just curious about a lot of things sometimes and one of the things that catch my interest a bit more than normal is how the earth behaves, in particular, when things go wrong. Hence, I borrow books about Krakatoa blowing apart. And I read articles and watch science specials. I know, for example, that there’s a supervolcano under Yellowstone National Park and that it blows at relatively regular intervals and is now running late. I found that fascinating. My flatmate was terrified. But I can’t change how that volcano behaves. I just want to know more about it.

I’m also fascinated in how information from the past is painstakingly collected and collated to tell a story. The earthquake in British Columbia is part of a story I find fascinating and it relates to the Cascadia Subduction Zone. Put simply, every so often, there is a major, major earthquake there. Because that area isn’t so populated, the record of those earthquakes is drawn from the earth. It’s also drawn from Japan because experts in tsunami history have been able to match up a mystery tsunami with an unrecorded earthquake in North America, unremarked there because of the very low population density there. That element of detective work fascinates me.

When the earthquake struck Canada this evening, it automatically flagged for me because I know about the Cascadia Subduction Zone and the fact that historically it has generated some serious activities and some significant tsunamis. It’s based on the fact that I’m an information magpie sometimes. My friend who gets the earthquake alerts on his phone wasn’t familiar with this. I can’t remember whether it came to me via some documentary on a cable channel (possibly) although i was reminded of it in a piece I read on the site of a west coast America newspaper the other day, the main thrust of which was to highlight just how unprepared that area is for a major earthquake.

I’m not sure I’d know quite so much about these things if it weren’t for those sources of information like the library when I was younger and now, books on demand courtesy of amazon.com and the kindle software. Yes, I still occasionally watch these things on television because television has an interesting way of presenting information sometimes even if it can be a lot more superficial than the details you get in well written (and illustrated) books. And websites now.

I love that I can go to this amazing vat of knowledge and get what I want. When I ring my mother to tell her about things like this, she reaches for the radio because when she was my age, radio news was internet. For me now I reach for the USGS page and find out all I need to know (like where this thing was on map relative to the CSZ so as to confirm my suspicions).

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