Reflections on Immediacy, Community and Empowerment

Houston — The tsunami crisis will be remembered for many reasons: The number of lives lost, the huge number of persons affected, the loss of personal property and the broad geographical area affected. It is the largest natural disaster in many years.

These
are obvious. Equally important, but more subtle, is the role of digital media
in giving immediate information, empowering people to act and creating a sense
of community.

Immediacy — We have become accustomed to immediacy. As noted in an earlier entry in this blog, the news media were chasing after digital photos and videotape from people on the scene when the tsunami hit. Expectations have changed. I believe these changed expectations will affect how non-profit organizations tell their stories about humanitarian aid in the future. The practice of collecting information on-scene and reporting it days later will be less acceptable in the future. They will need to get word out about their efforts as the story unfolds.

People relied on a mix of media to stay abreast of the story. They wanted to see, hear and read about the story as it unfolded. In the future it will be necessary to function in multiple media to meet the needs of a media-saavy audience. Much more sophisticated communications plans are required to function in this environment.

Community — The tsunami response was remarkable not only for its magnitude. It is remarkable that this overflowing compassion occurred in a world that is divided by war, religious strife and ethnic division.

I believe people want to part of an affirming global community. But we don’t often have the occasion or the opportunity to express this except when urgent emergencies develop.

Our opportunities for congenial discussion are limited today, except in churches that have open hearts, open minds and open doors (no matter what the denomination) because polarization leads us to be defensive and protective, not expansive and inclusive. Polarization is, in my opinion, an insidious process that makes it harder to live in community with diversity.

Local media focus on local stories to the exclusion of global ones. Unless our national leaders speak forthrightly about the global community as Secretary of State Colin Powell did when he said instability due to lack of food in the tsunami-affected nations is related to U.S. security, we do not hear much about our interrelatedness.

The tsunami made us all aware of how fragile life is and how vulnerable we all are. In this understanding of our common humanity lies the seeds of dialogue about how we live on the planet and it gave us an opportunity to reach out in ways that bridge the poles.

I believe it should be part of the mission of the church to foster this kind of dialogue. We use the tools of technology to inform, create and sustain community. They are more than pieces of equipment and software programs, they are tools for mission and ministry.

Empowerment — The Internet empowers people in ways unknown to previous generations. It aggregates information, provides a means for individuals to act and gives direct access to story sources without an intermediary. Blogs from the affected area, for example, provided first-person accounts without an editor between the writer and the reader. On-line donation pages offered a range of giving options. The empowered individual could choose which site to use for making a donation and which sites to use for information with relative ease.

Digital media are directly related to our emotions and they provide us the means to act upon our feelings and beliefs.

In this mix, the message is critically important because those who communicate with clarity, simplicity and in accessible language will have a distinct edge.

This is why I believe the tsunami response represents a hinge-point in contemporary history. We’ve entered into a new day for storytelling.

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