The moment I heard about the Boston Marathon bombing, I did what many people did: I immediately sought out as much information as possible online. I watched the now widely dispersed videos of the bomb exploding, I looked at the gruesome pictures of victims of the attacks, and I read countless articles about the unfolding tragedy. It is of course trite to observe that the internet has fundamentally altered the way people consume news, breaking or otherwise, but the importance of this fact, however obvious it may be, was made especially vivid to me as I watched the story of the Boston Marathon bombing unfold over the last few days from England, where I am currently in graduate school.
Without an internet connection, I would know only a fraction of the information I know now. Tuesday’s British newspapers, published the day after the attack, of course prominently covered the story – it was on every front page I saw – but they could not possibly contain all the information that I had already learned online. I looked through them mostly out of curiosity, wondering if the UK news media would have a deep interest in a terrorist attack that occurred in the United States. (It does.) The BBC presumably provided some decent live coverage on television, but you have to pay a TV license in Britain to watch live shows (even online), so I wasn’t able to follow their coverage. I did check the BBC website and a couple other UK newspaper sites, like the Guardian, and all of these sites also had fairly thorough coverage of the attacks.
Mostly, however, I relied on the websites of U.S. media outlets, which obviously wouldn’t be possible without internet access. The power of these sites was made abundantly clear today, with all of the crazy events that have transpired over the last several hours. When I woke up this morning – the middle of the night, U.S. time – I opened the New York Times website and haven’t stopped reading the news since. My plan was to catch up on the news as I lay in bed, easing myself into a day of paper writing, as is my habit, but I was immediately pulled into following the extraordinary narrative of last night’s events. Two bombing suspects – Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, brothers reportedly from Chechnya or thereabout – were identified yesterday, which began a wild chain of events that involved firefights, explosions, and two deaths. (Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, the older of the two brothers suspected of the bombing, was killed, as was a police officer.) Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, is still at large and is the object of continual reporting, reporting that I am consuming with inextinguishable interest.
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On my browser, there are perhaps a dozen tabs opened. I’m logged in to my social media accounts, and I’m following live-update streams from the New York Times, the BBC, and the Huffington Post, all of which are continually pointing me in the direction of new stories to pursue. I’ve watched a number of clips on the network news sites – NBC seems to be doing a particularly good job, although I’ve checked CNN several times as well – and I’ve read anything of interest on the Boston Globe’s site, which dropped its paywall after the bombing.
Essentially, I’m doing everything that I would be doing if I were home in the U.S., and that is remarkable on a number of levels. My capacity to communicate with friends has been slightly diminished (I can’t call or text anyone phone-to-phone), but Facebook and email have enabled me to reach anybody I need to reach. (It also allowed me to make sure a friend in Boston is ok.) I’ve encountered a few different angles of the story thanks to my increased exposure to British media – there is a lot of coverage of the impact of the bombing on the upcoming London Marathon, for instance – but by and large every news source I’m reading is struggling to make sense of what happened and what is currently happening; that is, they are frantically trying to confirm facts, a virtue of the media that knows no national borders. Perhaps the only thing relevant about being an American in Britain at the moment is that I am willing to sit at my computer all day reading about an American tragedy, unwilling to go outside despite the (exceedingly rare) nice weather. The sun is shining in Britain, but dark clouds are over the United States, and I have to focus on the conditions at home regardless of where I am.
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