Sunday, August 29, 2010

Facebook for the high seas

I was talking to our NL neighbour Clara about technology, and she described a heart-stopping use of FB that she had experienced this past year.
Someone she is friends with began posting a series of photos, one after the next, of a boat in jeopardy, fighting huge waves and basically almost sinking. She said it was horrifying and impossible to take your eyes off. To the viewer it seemed impossible that the vessel could survive. Then, with each successive image more FB users began commenting, sending messages of hope and support for those on board. And presumably for the friend or family member who was taking the pictures and posting them.
Miraculously the boat made it back safely.
Citizens have been documenting events and disasters and tragedies since the technology became available, but there is something about placing the camera almost within an event of natural violence and making the photos immediately available that is even more thought-provoking.
Watching the movie The Perfect Storm, as terrifying as the images of the Andrea Gail are, fighting her way up the sky-high side of a hurricane-induced wave, you still know that the sequence was created in a studio. Secondly, on some level you know that the crew died alone.
What the FB pictures were doing was putting the viewers into an ongoing potential disaster, hoping that the crew would prevail and desperately hoping that they would not witness a real-time tragedy.
Since getting our house in Rose Blanche I have subscribed to the Twitter feed for CBC NL. It is shocking how many lives are still lost at sea every year. I would be surprised if more than a month ever goes by without a marine search taking place. Some have happy endings and far too many do not.
Recently the communities on the south west coast banded together to carry out an exercise in branding. We read the account in the local paper, which we subscribe to and read back in Ontario. They wanted to decide on a moniker for the 45-kilometre-long Highway 470 that starts in Port aux Basques and ends in Rose Blanche. Two of the alternatives were The Shipwreck Highway and The Granite Highway.
To tourists without a marine background it’s no contest. The Shipwreck Highway is evocative in a historical, romantic way, summoning forth the stories of bravery and tragedy that characterize the area. As one councilor told us, “This is isn’t any Anne of Green Gables fiction. This is all real.”
But they went with The Granite Highway, for the breathtaking beauty of the route, waves of old mountains rolling to the north and east and skirting the ocean itself to the south. But still. The Granite Highway. Would it tempt you?
The account in the paper said that people thought The Shipwreck Highway was just too depressing. And if your friends and family were a part of that particular heritage it must be. So I’m wrong. To paraphrase the councilor it’s not marketing, “It’s real.”

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