Thursday, November 8, 2012

Staying Connected - for Better or for Worse - After Sandy

As Sandy’s monumental storm surge ebbed away, there were lots of reasons to be hopeful for the future of humanity. By my count, there were almost as many reasons to make going the way of the apes and hashing it out in the actual jungle seem like a feasible option.

First of all, to all the insane producers and journalists at every network who think they get more street cred for sending people to/standing in the middle of an evacuation zone - go inside! We all know it's windy out there. Don't rebuke the morons behind you calling their BFFs on their cell phones so that they can tune in and see their moronic friends in the background of the report, if you are going to point a camera at them! If you want them to go home, turn off your floodlight and live feed!

Okay, I just had to get that out of my system. On to my points.

This storm created extremes on every level. The beautiful and the ugly came through loud and clear via all sorts of media outlets… at least for those of us who were lucky enough to have power and an Internet connection. People in Breezy Point, Queens lost everything they did not have on them. Some who live 10 miles north of them didn’t lose a thing – not even power. Some people worked tirelessly to gather donations for the relief effort, in some cases filling donation sites to capacity, while some looted copper piping from inside the walls of the most devastated homes so they could sell it for scrap. Companies, corporations, and small businesses gave money, time, and effort to help those hardest hit. Some gouged anyone they could for the items they desperately needed like water and gas.

As different ends of the humanity spectrum duked it out, the storm also acted as an equalizer for the victims. Those of us living in the Northeast realized that we are not immune to the kind of epic disaster we have previously only witnessed in pictures and on video. With that, people on all levels of the economic ladder were thrown the same set of humbling circumstances – no power, no heat in an unforgiving mid-autumn, having to rely on others for everything. Then there was the basic human need to connect, which is where social media became the virtual hero of the day.

When I think about the landscape had Sandy hit 15 years ago, it’s another set of extremes. Safe havens, gas, resources, security – these all became exponentially more accessible to those with magical pockets of wifi because of Facebook and Twitter, not to mention email and text. If not for these lifelines, so many more would have been in the dark in more ways than one.

Those who did right by their fellow humans were promptly rewarded, thanks in large part to technology. Several times in the days after the storm I read updates by people waiting in lines at certain stores and gas stations because they had heard about huge donations made by them to the relief effort. Others posted and tweeted about their positive experiences with specific merchants when store owners and managers found out that the raid on the cleaning supply and baby food sections was for the hurricane victims. For me, whether these groups donated on a human level or in a calculated maneuver to reap a plethora of PR benefits doesn’t even matter. They gave. At a time when so many people had no choice but to take, that’s what matters.

The people and companies who screwed people over will undoubtedly pay the price for their greed. The people who became the most vulnerable at the hands of Sandy won’t quickly forget who was there to pick them up and who kicked them in the head when they were down. Or, I suspect, who attempted to have 40,000 runners trample them 6 days after the storm pounded them.

Maybe it’s because Bloomie has no plans to buy himself a fourth term, but what was up with trying to go ahead with the marathon?! There have been some times I have agreed with Bloomberg and some times I haven’t, but this was one big, permanent strike against him for me. He’s a money guy. I get that. He’s spent his entire life focused on the bottom line and he’s a bazillionaire because of it. Fine. But he’s also human. And that wasn’t quite as apparent in the days after the storm when he repeatedly and nonchalantly declared that the marathon would go on as planned. Thousands of people running a race miles away from a densely populated, now completely devastated coastline is just a bad idea.

Storm victims tossed out of hotel rooms so that runners could take them – BAD. Generators allocated for the marathon tents (albeit supplied by the Road Runners Club and not the city) when they could have been helping the hardest hit – BAD. The thousands of already-spread-thin police officers that would have had to man the marathon route instead of keeping the peace in the outer boroughs – BAD. There was a silver lining, at least, to this really bad move. The marathon was called off so late in the week that most of the runners where already in town. Many paid for their hotel rooms and donated them to flood victims. They also went out into the city that hosts them every year to do what they could to help – GOOD.

In the face of something the scale of which this area has never seen, those who were good to their neighbor, and the tools that connected them, won the day. But what do all the myriad reactions to the circumstances, brought to us instantaneously courtesy of social media, say about us? Sure, we have never seen anything like this so it’s understandable that people became a little unhinged after a few days without power. But at the same time, we have never seen anything like this. This was a big deal. We’ve been so lucky in the Northeast that even ancient people don’t remember another storm of this caliber in their lifetime. With the exception of the people along the NY and NJ coast that redefined the term “taking one for the team”, I was left wondering why people couldn’t keep it together a little better. I mean, syphoning gas out of cars in their owners’ driveways? Come on people! Go donate some old clothes. I bet you can find a relief site within walking distance on twitter.