SFO crash: How my smartphone fed me news and shared info with friends

Published: July 6, 2013

Tragedy struck on Saturday when a plane crash landed at SFO in the early afternoon. I saw photos and videos of the Asiana 777 crash thanks to smartphone-wielding travelers at SFO, and eventually from passengers who survived the accident. Although I'm used to seeing breaking news unfold in real time on Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets, it still felt a little strange to know that the events were happening almost as quickly as I saw them on my phone. What makes this particular event more significant is that I wouldn't have heard about this accident if it weren't for my smartphone. 

I've been up in the Oakland hills for the past few days and there have been occasional Comcast outages in the area. Internet connectivity and TV/cable signal has been on and off. My cell phone reception isn't the best, but occasionaly when it's good I'll fire up Facebook and Twitter to see what's going on with my friends and the rest of the world. I decided to spend that disconnected time reading books and magazines, and taking pictures of the landscape around the area. By chance, I happened to open up Twitter on my phone just minutes after the crash at SFO happened, and I was glued to my device for the next hour or so, waiting to see what happened and why.

After seeing images and videos of the crash stream through Twitter, I started sharing the news with my friends and family by texting links and photos to them. One of them asked, "Are you sure this is really happening? Is it only on Twitter? I'm not seeing anything about the crash on TV or anywhere else." I checked for myself, and it turned out that no one outside of Twitter had reported the news yet, but I'm not going into the debate about real-time news versus slower, fact-checked reports. 

With my eyes strained on my phone, I bounced back and forth between Twitter and Facebook since it seemed to be the two best sources for real-time accounts of what was happening at SFO. In between that, I was texting and messaging friends to see if they knew what happened, or if they'd heard about the crash (many of my friends travel often and always seem to be at SFO). So there I was for the better part of the early afternoon with my phone in my hand, serving as a consumption and communications tool--a window and a line to the rest of the world. 

It seems pretty obvious, but our smartphones are so much more than media-playing, Instagramming, Snapchatting little social-networking machines. They're certainly all those things, but they're also a lifeline or connection to everything and everyone who has something to report, share or say. However, it's those same blessings that can become a curse--there is often so much noise and distraction from our phones that it feels good to abandon them for a little while, even if it's just a few hours, so we can enjoy a little peace up in the hills. Or on a beach. Or anywhere we can find a little down time, really. It's finding the balance between the two that helps me keep some sanity, though I'm pretty terrible at striking that balance with any regularity. 

Today's events left me thinking about my addiction to smartphones and the news and social networking. It's been great to be away from it all up here in the hills, and it was the first time in my life that I've been affected by a Comcast outage where I didn't go on some cursing rampage. I embraced the lack of connectivity and used the time to do things I enjoy without distractions from friends and family and acquaintances. But then I wonder what would happen if during that time of disconnect, of peace and leisure, I become oblivious to something major happening around me. Or what if someone really needs to get a hold of me in the event of an emergency, and I'm here painting still life scenes on top of a mountain with a blissfully ignorant grin on my face?

Many of us suffer from FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out. That's not really the case with me, because if you were throwing some awesome party across town and it was all over Vine and Instagram, I'll probably just follow along remotely so I don't have to get up and get dressed and drive and look for parking. I'm more of a fear of missing important calls or urgent messages in the event of an emergency type of guy (FOMICOUMITEOAE?).

So here's my question to you: Do you ever take time away from your smartphones to enjoy a little sanity and clarity, or to be away from the stresses of work and perhaps drama with friends and significant others? Or are you too worried that important things might happen and you wouldn't know it if your pocket or purse wasn't constantly buzzing?

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