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Hurricane Sandy: Proof that digital brings us together when we need it most

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Hurricane Sandy: Proof that digital brings us together when we need it most

– by Andy Pratt

It’s been one week since Hurricane Sandy. The Northeast is slowly recovering. And at an estimated 60 billion dollars worth of damage, that is no easy task. For certain, this storm was a formidable reminder of our outdated, fragile infrastructure and the types of weather events we’ll face in the future. But it was also a reminder of how we are all connected as part of one large global village, and how technology enables us to come together during the most difficult of circumstances.

All in all, I was one of the lucky ones. My neighborhood did not lose power and we had no major flooding. Unfortunately, not all my colleagues and friends had the same experience, nor did the residents of the Red Hook neighborhood just south of me. My wife, son and I were cut off from the rest of the city, however, and the only way we connected to the wider world was digitally, through the internet. This is the same internet that gets blamed for disconnecting people from the real world all the time--the one that leads to groups of people in the same room, not talking to each other, because our heads are buried in some digital device. Yeah, that Internet.

Yet platforms like Facebook and Twitter are modern day public meeting houses, which enable us to connect, coordinate, and mobilize. They also allow official organizations, like NYCgov, FEMA, and the Red Cross to quickly spread information. Of course, in a disaster like this, one of the first services to be lost is wifi. But now, even if you’re left without it, you can still receive vital information on your phone. A feature called Fast Follow allows you to receive receive tweets via SMS.  Just text “Follow (username)” to 40404, and you can be kept in the loop.

And it wasn’t only organizations who made use of these tools. Individuals, too, were empowered. They organized cleanup efforts, trips to bike over donations to far flung neighborhoods, and spread the word on charging stations. There were also many digital resources that provided crucial information, like this crowdsourced Sandy coworking map, this Google Map overlay, or this Subway Map from the New York TImes. And other platforms, like SmallKnot, allowed us to pool together funds to help some of our beloved local businesses and organizations get back on their feet. 

It’s wonderful that so many people are out there willing to help out. I see it as a true sign of the human spirit that binds us all. It is also great to know that we can use the same digital tools that often separate us from the real world to help piece it back together.

The Funny Garbage office was closed last week since we were in SoPo (South of Power). But we are now open again, the fridge is cleaned out, and we are ready to rock and roll. We hope the rest of the city gets back on its feet soon, too.