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Crisis on Google Earth

One of the most incredible things about technology is its remarkable ability to devolve power. The advent of the newspaper (with a system of free press, mind you) suddenly made information much more readily available, allowing, for the first time, anyone who could read the ability to get informed about politicians and the elites. The advent of the internet furthered this trend, putting almost any bit of information anywhere in the world in the hands of anyone who had access to the ‘net. Howard Dean built his campaign almost entirely on the grassroots movement and the internet and although he didn’t win the Democratic nomination, he cut deeply into the traditional advantage held by those who were able to win over the media with just a few well-placed soundbytes and lots of money. (More realistically, you still need lots of money, and you now have to place your soundbytes all over the internet and not just on CNN and ABC)

Technology can go beyond simply empowering individuals politically and intellectually, but it can also impact the ability of individuals to bypass traditional government bureaucracies. Years ago, if a natural disaster like a hurricane happened, the only recourse was the government. The government would have to get its act together to save people. But, what if the government completely botches the effort? What if a hurricane — lets call it Katrina — destroys an entire area and all the governments involved were too incompetent to properly handle the job? Well, a couple of years ago, you would’ve been screwed. You would have had to wait for the government to get its act together … and we all know how slow governments are at doing anything right

I’m sure that Hurricane Katrina, given the government’s abysmal failure in dealing with its aftermath, would have been much worse had it not been for the ability of the internet to leverage incredible amounts of support for the private-sector disaster relief effort and for bringing about government criticism which finally pushed the governments to do something. And, as Google’s official blog points out, technology such as Google Earth was employed by multiple agencies not only to better understand the broader picture of what the hurricane did, but also to help find stranded people.

Published in Blog

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