The Digital Age

At first it seemed incongruous to me. What people were complaining about in Banda Aceh was not the lack of clean water. It was not the speed of cleanup. Not lack of basic goods. They were complaining about the lack of cellphone service in parts of the city.

As
an article on cleanup in the New
York Times
makes clear, normalcy in this situation is difficult to
grasp. The article reminds me of conversation within our delegation as we
travelled the streets of Banda Aceh and saw the completeness of the
destruction.

The rubble is scooped
up by front loaders and loaded into dump trucks which off-load it along street
shoulders. It was stacked eight-feet high or more on some roadsides we passed.
Our conversation surmised that reconstruction here could take a decade. Given
the mass and nature of the debris, it is doubtful that some bodies or skeletal
remains will ever be fully
recovered.

It really isn’t as
incongruous as it seems that people desire cellphone coverage in these
conditions. In fact, the ability to communicate across distances, when roads
are impassable and bridges destroyed, is a critical need. The tsunami resulted
in massive dislocation as people fled the rising waters and are unable to return
to their former homes. They are trying to determine who has survived and where
their absent loved ones might be located. The cellphone is the means by which
this can be done most efficiently.



I wrote from the outset that we live in a
digital environment. Cellphones have become important means of communicating
the world over. Some countries have leapfrogged over the wiring of traditional
landline telephony and are dependent on cellular
technology.

When a technology moves
from being an interesting innovation to a necessary tool, it moves into the
mainstream. In this emergency we are witnessing both the adoption of a variety
of digital technologies that are becoming critical tools and at the same time,
we are experiencing our vulnerability without them.

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