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Dirk Dusharme @ Quality Digest

Innovation

The Day We All Looked for the Same Thing

... and found it

Published: Thursday, August 24, 2017 - 12:03

We set aside our cardboard glasses and our papers pricked with holes, stepped away from the telescope guy, the one who would have been “that weird guy” any other day, except for today, when he’s your new best friend. And for those who thought maybe they could just glance at the eclipse with their naked eye “just for a bit, I’m sure it’s OK, yeah?” the spots are beginning to clear.

It’s over. For 150 minutes Selene’s chariot streaked across the heavens to block her brother’s view of Earth. And for 150 seconds, millions stood, raptured as she set a diamond diadem round Helios’ head. Joy as well for those in Sister Moon’s penumbra, as Helios smiled, and a thousand crescent dapples of light danced, laughing, beneath the trees and umber sky.


https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/styles/full_width_feature/public/thumbnails/image/35887439634_c56741cd33_o.jpg


Millions drove millions of combined miles to be in the totality of Monday’s eclipse, for most of us a once-in-a-lifetime event. And not just that. A communal event, although we probably didn’t see it that way.

The last time a total eclipse was visible across the entire United States, coast to coast, was in 1918. What made Monday’s eclipse special was not just that it was, at most, a day’s drive for anyone in the United States. It’s that it occurred within the internet age.

During the late 1990s, only about 4 percent of the world was using the internet, which seems crazy; only one person in 25 was connected, how can that be? And most of those were in developed countries. During that same period, there were only a couple of total eclipses that passed over developed countries, ones where the internet could play a part in sharing and discussing the event. And even then, no live streaming video, no streaming video at all. In the 2000s there were a few total eclipses landing in populated areas of the world but none in the United States.

Now with a couple of clicks you can see the entire track of an eclipse; see exactly what time it will occur anywhere along that track, and how long it will last; use Google maps to find the quickest route to a total eclipse near you; check weather conditions a week in advance; and book your hotel. It’s so easy, it’s almost boring: “Susan, fix me a cuppa, and by the way, darling, where is that eclipse?”

This particular eclipse is also the first U.S. coast-to-coast total eclipse since the automobile and the creation of the interstate freeway system. Anyone, anywhere, could hop in their car and see totality. Of course, everybody in the United States, Canada, and Mexico were thinking the same thing, so forward thinkers knew traffic might be a consideration. But if you were worried about it, you probably just looked up eclipse traffic estimates and maybe picked a spot that wasn’t going to be so congested. Google mapped this out for you (of course, isn’t Google just).



Central Wyoming seemed like a safe bet... but probably no broadband… so maybe not. Western Oregon and anything East of Missouri? Lots of traffic… but, hey! 4G! So there you go, Sun, Moon, and Earth align, and we can tweet it. Selfie! Now four spheres in alignment (or three disks and a sphere if you’re a flat-Earther… or maybe four disks after all).

So maybe it was better to just watch on your computer. Millions did, which might be why some had a hard time watching continuous streaming video coverage, forcing them to turn on the television. So 2000.

Predictably, with everybody talking about the eclipse and everyone wanting to see it, the same internet that brought you the eclipse sold you eclipse-watching glasses… which was great until fake eclipse glasses appeared. Big surprise.

So millions of people flocked to the path of totality, put on their glasses, stood elbow to elbow and were communally amazed!

And this, I guess, is where I say I’m torn. On the one hand, technology can be a great leveler, making special events available to almost anybody and everybody. On the other, there is something special about a small gathering of people, standing on a beach in Oregon, or a dirt road in Idaho, outside a diner in Wyoming, or a park in Louisiana. Just you, a handful of people, and It.

This is the amazing thing about technology. It brings us closer together. We experience everything now as a group, whether we want to or not. And let’s face it, sometimes you don’t. You love your little hole-in-the-wall diner that no one knew about until Guy Fieri featured it in Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, and now you can’t get a seat. Your secluded swimming hole is almost all yours until someone blabs about it on Facebook, and now you can walk across the bodies to the other side. And the secret concert at the little night club that thousands showed up at?

But, maybe we need to share more experiences in person. Maybe it’s good that we know exactly how to get anywhere and when.  Maybe the more experiences we share in person, the more we realize how much the same we are. We share the same sky, the same sun, the same Earth. We’re all amazed, together, at a sunset, a rainbow, an eclipse. All labels other than “human” come down when we converge on the aftermath of a natural disaster to lift others up. We learn that we aren’t alone, that behind all the tweets, and emails, and chats, and posts (even the obnoxious ones), there is flesh and blood, not avatars. We rub up against the masses and realize we are part of that mass. We’re more the same than not. We’re more good than evil. And all of us, like humankind from the beginning of time, are just as easily awestruck as struck down by nature.

And while we bemoan that virtual connection is no connection at all, we have seen that same technology connect us en masse, in person, and it was good.

Visualize it: Millions and millions of people lined up in a 70-mile-wide path from Lincoln, Oregon, to McClellanville, South Carolina, all looking in the same direction and hoping for the same thing.

Yes. It’s possible.

Discuss

About The Author

Dirk Dusharme @ Quality Digest’s picture

Dirk Dusharme @ Quality Digest

Dirk Dusharme is Quality Digest’s editor in chief.

Comments

Human Interaction

Anyone who wonders why organizations are making great efforts to promote "engagement", should consider this column. It has become too easy for people to withdraw into a cybershell, communicating electronically. As this isolation becomes insulation, people become caricatures, defined more by perception than reality. Anything that returns humanity to any environment can only be an improvement.