Texting and social media were the best ways to communicate with my family and friends after the Boston Marathon bombing

  Written by Louis Gudema

black rose - smallYesterday was certainly a sad day for Boston. Our annual party was bombed. At least three people were killed and over 100 injured. Patriots Day and the Marathon will never be the same again; this will always  on our minds as Patriots Day approaches.

The rest of this is based on my personal experience; others may have experienced the events differently.

In terms of communication, texting and social media dominated. As soon as I heard something had happened, about 15 minutes after the explosions, I immediately tried to check BostonGlobe.com. The site was overwhelmed; I could not get to it.

So I switched to Twitter and the headlines were streaming by. I quickly knew the sketchy outline of what had happened: a couple explosions near the finish line with many possibly injured. Some speculation about whether they were bombs or another kind of explosion, but that didn’t concern me. I know that when an event like this happens rumors fly, so I wasn’t concerned with the details – those would get filled in later, maybe weeks later — as much as with the big story.

And for me the biggest story was the health of my daughter, who is going to school at Emerson College just 7 blocks from the finish line. It was very possible that she had gone with some friends to see the race.

I checked my phone and she had tried to call me 10 minutes earlier, but by now the wireless bandwidth was overwhelmed, too. So we texted one another. I knew she was safe and wanted to get together so she could go home with me. (She was actually able to get through a few minutes later on my office’s phone lines, although she was on a wireless and the office uses VoIP.) I could also text my wife that our daughter was safe and I was picking her up.

There was a rumor that the police shut down the wireless networks to stop another remote bomb detonation, but that wasn’t true. MEMA did ask people to text instead of using voice because it would use less bandwidth.

After meeting up with her and a friend who was with her, we drove our way through the back streets of Boston, Brookline and Newton; it was fastest to avoid the main streets. (Thank you, Google Maps.) After we got home I posted to Facebook that my daughter was safe. Dozens of friends and family saw the post and either thanked, commented, or Liked it.

And by then the initial surge of Internet interest had waned and I could check major news sites for more details, preliminary though they may have been, and the Emerson College website for news on tomorrow’s schedule, etc. By the evening Facebook was the gathering place for messages of love for Boston and how to pull together and help the victims.

So the net: Twitter was the best way to get the headlines and find out the basics of what was happening, texting was the fastest way to communicate one-to-one in the face of an overwhelmed phone system, and Facebook was the best way to put out a message to many people.

Each of these new tools is different and each has its well-earned place in our ever expanding communication universe. I am so glad that they were all available.

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