Thursday, September 06, 2007

Long delayed flood post

Yesterday I went to my hometown, the place where I went to kindergarten-high school, and helped strip the Legion down to its studs. Most of the town has been wiped out by a sudden 11-15 inch rainfall that occurred 17 days ago. It's been difficult for me to see the town where most of my early memories were made destroyed and to think of of the devastating losses suffered by many of the people who've helped shape my life. My parents still live near the town but, luckily for them, my family managed to escape any damage.

I've caught the 2.0 bug and really have enjoyed the social networking opportunities available. However, I'm beginning to feel that there are limits. I had chalked up my memories of how pleasant people were in SE Minnesota to a childish nostalgia. When I moved back to the area nearly two years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the polite attitude was real and hadn't changed. At least in person...

I kept up to date with the news about the flood via the Winona Daily News because most other media coverage focused on the four people that died on area roads without presenting a more comprehensive view of SE Minnesota. One of the features of the Winona Daily news has been their incorporation of 2.0 technology into its online edition with comments and blog posts. The comments that I read on the flood coverage were like pouring salt on a wound. The comments section is littered with nasty political discussion, personal attacks on flood victims, and know-it-all comments about how people should know enough to have flood insurance.

Please understand. This stuff is part of the discussion of a democracy. But there is a time and place for every discussion and holding off the two months it takes for people to deal with the bulldozing of their houses, the stripping down to studs, the lack of a clean water supply, and all those other survival issues may be more appropriate. Certainly, even in two months personal attacks will still be inappropriate, but the larger discussion could still continue.

As saddened as I am by this development, I'm not really surprised. I rarely read any of the letters to the editor in my hometown newspapers because they are so negative and divisive. However, the comments section has increased the anonymity of the comments and the number of people who do comment. Is this a 2.0 flaw? We've known for awhile that people tend to be less reserved online. How can we incorporate comments without enabling such bitter attacks on relatively innocent people?

A side note: As a librarian, I am proud of the way the libraries in these flooded communities have responded. They have become the command centers for the town, stepping up and serving their communities. Maybe I should wait two months to say this, but: let's hope towns and government remember the crucial role these libraries have played in these past few weeks.


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