It could not have been a more regular Wednesday evening at work. But it changed at around 7pm, when my colleague got a call from his wife. She said there had been an explosion in Zaveri Bazaar and she had heard it at her Dadar home.
Born and brought up in Mumbai, hearing of an explosion was not surprising. But how can an explosion in Zaveri Bazaar be heard at Dadar? In a while, though, a friend called asking if I had checked Twitter.
I knew then. It had happened. Again. I knew because Twitter said it. I am a Twitter addict. It is my Wikipedia on everything. No question goes unanswered, no topic buried. The news you get is as reliable as the source. Cautious about the people I follow, I knew I could rely on every piece of information on my timeline.
I had braced myself for a barrage of tweets blaming the government, the police, the intelligence and the cab drivers. But this time, it was different.
Some people tweeted their phone numbers to reach out to those stranded at the blast sites. This soon snowballed into people offering rides, food, water and even blood.
Somewhere in Delhi, Nitin Sagar realised that the information was moving too fast and the helpful bits were getting lost in the virtual stampede. He immediately made a Google Spreadsheet and listed five phone numbers which were being retweeted. Once he tweeted the link to his spreadsheet, the numbers multiplied to over 200 in two hours.
Ajay Kumar also created visual hotspots on the map for those who were stuck, connecting them with people who were willing to help. It was beautiful pandemonium! All I could do was retweet every helpful tweet I came across.
Meanwhile, Twitter’s older cousin, Facebook, was being characteristically strident and pointless. There was not a shred of useful information on its walls. It became a channel for everyone to blame someone, anyone.
At a time of crisis, people at large have always felt the need to help those affected. It started with people giving out food and shelter to 26/7 victims.
This time, they had a medium to communicate with each other, thanks to smartphones. I know everyone doesn’t have access to social media. And not everyone who has access is sensible enough to stay quiet if they cannot help.
If the social media space truly has to be counted as a media, then every user becomes a reporter and has to show the same responsibility that is expected of a professional journalist. It becomes extremely difficult to parse through countless senseless updates to get to the really important ones.
Mobile phone networks cannot sustain the traffic in such crisis situations. This time, the social network came to our rescue. If it eased the traffic of calls to some extent and put some people at ease. It achieved its objective.
And had the colleague’s wife been on Twitter, she would have realised that what she heard was indeed a blast which occurred in the lane next to her Dadar home.
(Aditya Kandala is an accounts manager and lives in Thane)