Superstorm Sandy: Hyper-convergence in Motion

October 30, 2012 in Crisis Policy Forum, Hyper-convergence paradigm by Joseph Robertson

Superstorm Sandy, a massive hybrid weather system in which a major Hurricane, a big storm from the northern Great Plains and an Arctic cold front converged, has demonstrated with extreme persistence the ongoing process of hyper-convergence in media, government and services. Mobile phones, tablet computers, Twitter, Facebook and other new media tools allowed people across the storm’s path to share photos and videos, anecdotal eyewitness testimony, and public alerts, to make sure as many people as possible were informed, prepared and able to chart their course to safety.

Even as New York City’s 911 system was taking more than 10,000 emergency calls per half-hour, hundreds of stranded citizens were rescued, and the death toll was limited, we now believe, to single digits. For those people and those families, the loss is tragic and cannot be reduced to numbers, and the devastation to property and infrastructure, especially across the New York City region, is epic.

The fact remains, however, that a major socio-psychological jolt like Sandy has effectively pushed the process of worldwide hyper-convergence forward, tantalizing people who may never have understood their own need for what it can be, with a rush of useful or comforting information and instructions for survival and protection of property. We are now more connected than we have ever been, and social media are now playing an integral role in our spontaneous social fabric of disaster response.

We know that devices are becoming smaller, lighter and more powerful. We know that tablets and smart phones will evolve to be paper-thin, flexible, self-powering, and may become THE irreplaceable lifeline for most people in dangerous situations, or even just everyday struggles, within the next decade.

Photo and video testimony from a spontaneous community of citizen documentarians is now an expected part of social assimilation and response to crisis, whether it is the nonviolent uprising in Egypt, in early 2011, the still ongoing civil war in Syria, or the real time response to a devastating hurricane in New York City, whose impact stretched over more than a dozen states almost simultaneously.

We welcome your insights, examples, and predictions about the direction, potential, risks and specifics of hyper-convergence in media, services and government, as comments below…