Terrorist attacks in India underline the personal criticality of mobile

In every single piece of reporting I’ve been reading about the terrorist attacks in India this evening, there’s been some kind of mention of mobile.

One British MEP, Sajjad Karim, has been frequently quoted – here’s an example from The Guardian:

“I was in the lobby of the hotel when gunmen came in and people started running.”

“There were about 25 or 30 of us,” said the Tory MEP, speaking by mobile phone from a barricaded basement room.

“Some of us split one way and some another. A gunman just stood there spraying bullets around, right next to me. I managed to turn away and I ran into the hotel kitchen and then we were shunted into a restaurant in the basement.

The widespread availability of mobiles is making both the reporting far more electric — I really can perceive the sense of panic and concern from the words of Sajjad — I can imagine him talking into his handset telling the world what’s going on as events unfold in front of him.

It sadly takes events such as this to really underline just how connected we all are. This was, after all, thousands of miles away. 15 years ago this would have been a lead story — one item — on the front page of the newspapers. Today, we’re getting imagery, commentary and immediate viewpoints right-away from people on the scene.

We haven’t had to wait for the news anchors to get on the scene. We haven’t had to listen to oodles of speculation. We can get the quotes and the experiences live.

A slight concern I have — quite apart from the human tragedy — is that we appear to be moving to an experiential entertainment form of news.

It is shocking to experience Sajjad’s more-or-less immediate recollection of events. Shocking. But then again I’m sat in a house on a quiet street in the middle of nowhereville, South East of London, where the biggest danger is the ever-present but rare possibility of the aging King Charles Spaniel getting done-in by a Badger at the end of garden whilst she’s out relieving herself.

All the big news sites are touting their ‘eye witness’ services. Reuters, for example, is advertising this service at the bottom of their Mumbai coverage:

Did you witness the attacks? We are inviting citizen photojournalists to send in their best images. If you think your picture captures the moment, please send it to pics@reuters.com.

I haven’t seen any ‘user generated’ footage — video or pictures — on news sites as yet.

But there’s a Wikipedia page up and fully populated — complete with maps of locations. Found this via a ‘twitter Mumbai’ search and hit on Global Dashboard — a site that had breaking links updated already. From there I learnt that there’s a live and dedicated Twitter feed for news and discussion on the attacks here (and another here) with roughly 5 tweets a second being added to each as I write:

Wikipedia is — as one chap comments — crediting Twitter as one of the sources for beraking news on attacks in Mumbai.

An enterprising and helpful person has setup the user, Mumbaiattack, on Twitter — to give a sanitised set of updates free from unnecessary commentary. This, I have subscribed to:

Mahalo is in on the action too with it’s own dedicated page and interactive Google Map and some ‘possible imagery’ of the terrorists — plus links to relevant Twitter users:

The challenge the ‘real’ news sites have got, one imagines, is that you’ve now got access to hundreds of thousands of conversations and experiences. Real. Live. Now.

Which ones are accurate?

If there’s a chap Tweeting from the top floor of the Taj Mahal Hotel balcony — is that genuine or is it an arse sat somewhere in Baltimore having a bit of fun with social media, trying to get on CNN?

I suppose you turn to the likes of Mahalo and Wikipedia who are sourcing from ‘credible’ sources. Mahalo, for example, includes Twitter user, BombayAddcit, as a top source. That’s, I suppose, because he’s got a relevant website attached to his Twitter profile and his Tweet feed looks decent.

I thought I’d try out a bit of mobilising. BombayAddict’s iPhone is at location 18.995453,72.819473 according to his Twitter profile. That’s a Google Maps reference. I stuck that into Google Maps and found that he’s 8.3km away from the Taj Mahal Hotel.

The more communications technology spreads, the more ‘real’ and immediate it all becomes for so many people.

This is both good and bad news.

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