The information age and technology have revolutionized the way we do everything. We live in a period coined “Network Society and Timeless Time,” by social scientists.
It was November 13th, and the editorial staff of 12th Street had just settled into our usual brainstorming session inside the “Fish Bowl” on the 5th Floor of 66 West 12th Street. On the top list of the agenda was solicitation of submissions for the theme topics that was unanimously agreed on the previous week, which included “Citizen Journalists,” a term used to describe individuals around the globe who act like reporters, using their digital devices, mostly mobile-phones, to gather and disseminate information through social media platforms ‘round the clock.
“No one knew what to say or if anything should be said. The faculty advisor cut the silence, ‘Does anyone want to talk about this?'”
About 30 minutes into the discussion Kadin, the art editor, interrupted: “Excuse me, I just got a text that there’s been an attack in Paris…” A long silence followed as we all stared at each other speechless, time froze for what seemed like eternity. No one knew what to say or if anything should be said. The faculty advisor cut the silence, “Does anyone want to talk about this?” she asked, in the most compassionate tone. And we all did.
Our agenda was interrupted by the breaking news in another world on the same planet that we share with billions of other humans. A world that’s shrinking at a pace faster anyone could ever imagine, colliding head-on with everything and everyone, automatically impacting our lives, changing our realities, forcing us to introspect. Compelling us to have a conversation, “that” uncomfortable conversation, about race, religion, gun control, gay marriage, intolerance, poverty, homelessness, income inequality etc.
The attack in Paris on 11/13 has changed our world forever, the way 9/11 did.
Technological innovation is the common thread in all these events and it continues to transform how we share information and how occurrences hundreds of thousands of miles away can impact our lives significantly. Mobile phones aided by social media have created and authorized millions of individuals around the world to perform the basic function of journalism, just by “point and shoot,” and uploading raw contents to social media platforms.
Immediately following the attack in Paris, main street media network interviewed the victims of the horrific attack at the Bataclan Theatre in Paris. These victims, who were just ordinary concertgoers a few minutes before the attack, became “citizen journalists” on whom reputable media outlets and the general public turned to for eye-witness report. Visibly shaken and traumatized, scores of individuals gave a detailed account of the horrific ordeal. Some reported that they had to take refuge behind the chairs or any structure they could find to protect them, including the dead bodies of their fellow citizens. Their narratives would serve as first-reporter-eyewitness evidence on record. Until the revolution of digital devices accompanied by the phenomenal power of the information highway (internet) and social media platforms, it was virtually impossible for an ordinary citizen to participate in any form of instantaneous information gathering and dissemination. Only trained journalists had the tools and the skill sets to perform this function, but technology has empowered millions of ordinary citizens to participate in information gathering and sharing, radically influencing public opinions and how justice is served in the world communities.
The first testament to the realities of the mobile phone/citizen journalist world we live in today in America, was the endless riots ignited by the release of the videotape in the brutal beating of Rodney King, a motorist in 1991 by LAPD officers: “Los Angeles was rocked by widespread rioting, looting and acts of arson night after four white cops were acquitted of nearly all assault charges in the videotaped beating of Rodney King, the black motorist who was subdued under a barrage of police batons”. April 29, 1992. www.nydailynews.com.
“It’s noteworthy to reference recent cases in which citizen journalists’ mobile-phone recordings have re-ignited the unresolved pain of the Rodney King case…”
Twenty-four years after the Rodney King case, citizen journalists’ videotapes continue to serve as a compelling evidence in several landmark cases in the US, forcing civil societies, particularly in law enforcement, the judicial system and mainstream media to re-think their views of these ordinary citizens who have been catapulted by technology to become reporters. It’s noteworthy to reference recent cases in which citizen journalists’ mobile-phone recordings have re-ignited the unresolved pain of the Rodney King case and other cases in recent times where justice had been denied, such as the Eric Garner case in New York, Michael Brown’s case in Ferguson and Freddie Gray in Baltimore.
Finally, for the first time in US history, most Americans felt that justice was delivered on November 24, when the Chicago police department charged a white officer Jason Van Dyke with first degree murder in the cold execution of Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old African-American.
As 9/11 changed our world, Paris is a reminder that our world will continue to be altered gravely by consequential actions taken by deranged individuals in our midst, or religion extremists thousands of miles away.
Unfortunately, no amount of intelligence, surveillance or emergency preparedness will prevent another terrorist attack. And, it doesn’t matter whether we share the view or not that we are all responsible for making this world safe and better, but one thing is certain, we can count on our human colleagues turned citizen journalists to bring us eye-witness report of the good, the bad and the evil as they unfold.
Cameras don’t lie, people do!