The 100th post of my blog could not have come at a more opportune and interesting time. In a tech-savvy Japan suddenly devoid of its extensive cellphone connections in much of the disaster struck areas and other parts of the network jammed by massive volumes of calls, the Internet once again proved itself to be the life-saving technological innovation putting in touch people in Japan with their worried friends and families both inside and outside the country.
Yet, the power of the Internet would not have been so important at such times of disaster if its ability to allow for nearly instant social communications and sharing of information was not so well developed and utilized by large numbers of users. SNS, especially Facebook, by breaking down the dangerous anonymous nature of cyber-populace, has allowed us to easily and quickly identify our loved ones affected by the disaster.
And then there is the consumer-generated media (CGM). Whether it be a simple status update on Facebook, a twit on Twitter, or a long post that you are currently reading on my blog, the more frequent the communication, even it is a simply one-way comment, shows that a person is alive, both physically and mentally, in the midst of a disaster, and through informative content, let the entire world know exactly what is happening and what are people thinking both inside and outside the disaster areas.
The symbiotic combination of SNS and CGM is exactly the right formula for disseminating needed information to a large number of unknown people at the same time. Because of myriad groupings and frequent accesses, information posted on Facebook or Twitter can easily rival extensiveness of an email mailing list or TV broadcast and rival speed of sending text messages or calling (where services are still available). This point has been proven again and again during emergency measures following the Quake.
And the central role played by SNS and CGM as the chief forms of communication in the aftermath of the Quake (as well as organization of protests to bring down strongmen across the Middle East) is largely due to their two defining principles, freedom of interaction stretching beyond political borders, and competitive innovation that compel constant improvements in tools for instant communication.
These two are again interrelated. With attempts by relevant political authorities to limit presence of sensitive CGM, that locality in endless cyberspace suffers as effective means of communication. And as fewer and fewer people use the Internet for communication in that locality, competition among major IT firms to improve the communication does not make any economic sense. The fact that people turned to the Internet as emergency source of information after the Quake goes to show the importance of cyber-freedom here in Japan.
However, as usually is the case for my posts, I need to end this admiration of the Internet with a cautionary note. Even as the Internet continues to do good by collecting words of encouragements, prayers for safety, and massive amounts of donations from across the world, there is an increasingly alarming trend, even here in Japan, of increasingly monitoring individual activities on the Internet.
The Internet is a place for free expressions and personal opinions, and every expressed freedom should be allowed as long as the freedom does not come at the expense of other people's freedom. There is no excuse for attempted verbal restrictions just because SNS and CGM move toward displaying real identities of the users in cyberspace. The tight grip on words on the Internet can only hasten the destruction of an environment so vital in helping to reunite love ones in an earthquake and to topple dictators.