The tragedy in Boston is a horrible thing. No motive or purpose can ever justify violence perpetrated on the innocent. It is especially awful that the attack was conducted at a race. As any runner can attest, races are uplifting, motivational events for everyone in attendance – participants and spectators alike. Races unite people from all backgrounds into a sporting contest that is largely about self-accomplishment and not defeating an opponent. To see the preeminent marathon in the world laid low is saddening.
In watching and reading the coverage of the aftermath the past few days, two things kept coming to my mind: history and the presence of the future.
The Commemoration of Victory
Marathons are long distance races that are 42 kilometres (or 26 miles) long. Legend has it that Pheidippides, a Greek messenger, ran all the way back to Athens after the battlefield of Marathon to announce that the Persians had been defeated. After Pheidippides’ announcement to the assembly, he died from exhaustion. The distance was approximately 40 km long and was used as a benchmark upon the revival of the modern Olympic games. So marathons are celebrations of victory and achievement of the human spirit.
The Boston Marathon in particular is held on Patriots’ Day, in remembrance of the Battles of Lexington and Concord – the initial battles of the American Revolutionary War. The celebration is recorded in the General Laws of Massachusetts as:
…Patriots’ Day, in commemoration of the opening events of the War of the Revolution and the struggle through which the nation passed in its early days.
-Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 6, § 12J
So someone chose to target a marathon, a test of the human spirit, held in memorial of the conflict the United States endured to establish itself as a nation. Somehow, I think the perpetrators will find that their purpose for the attack, whatever it might be, will have backfired.
The Rise of Little Brother
Like many people, I learned about the bombings in Boston via Twitter. This was the second terrorist event on US soil I learned about via the internet. The first time was when I learned about 9/11 on a message-board. Learning about a terrorist attack via the internet was an aberration 12 years ago. Now it is likely the norm for anyone under 30. Social media has emerged as the fastest medium for the transmittal of real-time news.
Social media and social news sites like Reddit have left mainstream media in the dust. While some may say that mainstream media acts as a filter for incorrect or inflammatory information, almost every traditional news source’s reporting in the 24 hours after the bombing was outrageously incorrect. While mainstream media was consumed with talking heads speculating about the attack and describing their feelings, Reddit self-organized into a pragmatic and productive machine. Spanning eight threads, consisting of 1000s of posts each, Reddit immediately sprang into action to help the spread information, quash false leads, and help those in need.
Reddit was also the first place to congeal all of the media recorded by regular people of the attack. When 9/11 occurred there was little to no immediate footage. Most footage of the planes hitting the World Trade Center was taken by mainstream media. There are maybe a handful of videos and a some dozens of photos of the attacks on 9/11. In contrast, there are dozens of videos and thousands of photos of the bombings in Boston. Every angle, every perspective – largely transmitted via social media. A singular event of human history recorded and broadcast in realtime by those involved in it. As has been pointed out before, we do not live in George Orwell’s 1984 – we live in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.
Big Brother exists, but he is largely unnecessary. We are all watching and recording each other. If nothing else, the tragic events in Boston should convince you of this: public privacy is no more. You are being watched.
There is no grand take away in the wake of such events. No point in trying to make sense of the senseless. In the immediate aftermath all there is to do is to grieve and to mend. After grieving has passed – to strengthen spirits and resolve not to be intimidated. Not to give our liberties away in the name of security, or to vilify those who are different.
Not to be terrorized but instead steeled to bring those responsible to justice.