by Anita Mae Draper
This past weekend was historic in more than one sense of the word.
First, because it was the 100th anniversary of the sinking of RMS Titanic.
I didn't sign on right away - mainly because the RMS Titanic left Southampton on April 10th and wouldn't sink until the 15th and I don't have time to sit around doing nothing but tweet for that length of time. However, I followed @titanicrealtime and added it as a column to my Tweetdeck to keep an eye on the action. I soon found out, however, that many followers were tweeting the same updates but at different times because of time zones. So I'd be reading the same tweet by 3 or 4 dozen people. What got me was that some were simply retweeting and some were editing first, either before or after the original tweet. Could I trust that the tweet was even accurate in that case?
That's when I went right to the source and added the @TheHistoryPress column to my Tweetdeck. From then on, I retweeted each tweet as soon as I received it. Well, except those that came in during the night. I did those in the morning with appropriate spaces in between. I don't know if any of my followers were following my tweets, or if they even cared, but once I started, I didn't dare quit, just in case.
Actually, it reminded me of being back in the military where I worked in the underground communications centre where the messages would come in over the teletype machine and I had to process them and ensure a runner from the command post came and got them immediately. And if a message was to go out, I had to type my fingers off getting that message out over the circuit and on its way to NORAD as fast as humanly possible.Yes, that's NORAD as in the North American Aerospace Defense Command in Cheyenne Mountain... the one you see in the Stargate TV shows... Except retweeting is much faster.
As the days passed and the Titanic's anniversary date neared, I stepped back to look at the big picture. Was I getting too wrapped up in an event where so many died? Was I treating their deaths as entertainment? Was I showing a lack of compassion by feeding on the morbidity of the event?
These thoughts crossed my mind many times over the following days, especially when I read some of the insensitive tweets. Followers of the @titanicrealtime seemed to fall into several camps:
- those like me who merely retweeted without comment
- those who retweeted with insensitve remarks
- those who appeared to treat the tweets as real updates
These latter ones reminded me of another broadcasting milestone - October 30, 1938 when Orson Welles narrated the radio drama, The War of the Worlds as a series of news broadcasts uninterrupted by commercials. Listeners who missed the opening or forgot it was the usual timeslot for the anthology series Mercury Theatre on the Air took the words to heart and believed a Martian invasion was at hand. In the following days, listeners made known their rage at having been deceived.
But that wasn't the case with the Twitter broadcast of The History Press, right? After all, the reason behind the broadcast was to publicize their Titanic app for the new iPad.
Yet some of the tweets were disturbing. I'm not talking about the ones that retweeted with the 'F' word or other profane language. And I'm not talking about the ones who spoiled it for everyone else with snide remarks that were meant to sound smart but came off as juvenile. Like the *spoiler alert* ones where someone would retweet and add "You think?", "What's a little iceberg?", "I'd swim if I were you.", or "I see Rose and Jack on the bow!"
But the tweets that were disturbing were the ones that made me wonder if the person tweeting was getting too carried away. Such as when I read, "Tell the Captain to quit tweeting and pay attention!", "No! Stay away from the icebergs!", "Why would he increase his speed?", "People are falling in the water!", "The water's too cold for them!" and "Why didn't he steer clear?"
I mean, this is a re-creation, right? Everything has to happen exactly as it did that fateful night. But I could feel the chilling fear and sorrow in some of those tweets as people experienced the awful tragedy of that night in 1912.
The tweets were a bit confusing too, because people all around the world followed and participated. Tweets in many different languages passed my eyes. And in different time zones. Several times I'd retweet and as mine joined the melee of others, the one before it spoke of something that wouldn't happen for hours yet in my time zone and yet the one after mine was hours behind. One person was very annoyed by this and kept tweeting, "What's the matter with them? It won't happen for three hours yet!"
I had set up my Tweetdeck as follows:
Column 1 - the original tweets from @TheHistoryPress
Column 2 - my blogging friends
Column 3 - @titanicrealtime
Column 4 - #1k1hr
Up until noon on Apr 14th, all columns tweeted at about the same pace which is to say one tweet every 10-15 mins. At 1 pm, however, Column 2 stopped tweeting and stayed silent for about 8 hrs. During that time, Column 4 also stopped. Column 1 was erratic. At times, I'd get several tweets in a row with the captain, crew, engineering and passengers all talking about the weather or the meal, etc, then it would stay silent for an hour or so. If it hadn't been for Column 3, I would have worried that Twitter had failed.
Actually, several times, Twitter did fail, but always came back after a few minutes. That column 3 was something to see, though. As the time advanced toward the actual sinking, the tweets flew past at such a quickened state I couldn't even read them unless I clicked to stop the action. Even hubby came to sit in my chair and watch the tweets go by. Different languages. Different time zones. Different emotions. Different smart alecks. Everyone pointing to one tragic event.
Morbid? Perhaps. One person commented that watching the Titanic tweets was dishonouring the dead - making a spectacle of them. I disagree. I likened it to the Remembrance Day services. We hold them to remember our dead and why they died fighting. Except the people who died on the Titanic died so that better safety measures could be put in place in other ships and thousands more lives could be saved. They didn't die in vain although they experienced a horrible death.
And in the waning hours after Titanic lay in pieces on the ocean floor, the tweets carried on, each one spaced out farther than the last, as finally the Carpathian reached the wreckage site and took on the survivors.
A couple hours later, a tweet went out that the Carpathian was on its way to New York with 700 survivors on board. A #crewman tweeted, "700 passengers? That means 1500 were lost at sea..." and you could feel his pain. I felt the pain behind the words, whether real or fiction.
Finally, a tweet went out from @TheHistoryPress thanking everyone for their support for this historic broadcast. I retweeted that one. It was followed by one saying The History Press was giving a 30% discount on their printed material to all followers. I didn't retweet that one. However, I did retweet the one that said all followers with an iPad were entered for a free Titanic app. I mean, free is free, right?
The History Press's final tweet was inviting feedback and asking if we would like to see more similar broadcasts in the future. That received a lot of replies like, "Really great!", "An exciting new way to learn more and revisit history!", "What's next?" and "I have a better understanding of how it could have happened."
One person said that after reading the tweets for several days, they felt like a part of them had died as well. And hours after @TheHistoryPress tweeted their last, one tweet said, "But the survivors haven't reached New York yet." Clearly, they weren't ready for the tweets to end.
Even now Column 3 contines to change as the tweet says, "The mighty ship is gone. All around check their watches..." Which means in that time zone, the surivors are floating around in the boats awaiting rescue. But the pace is slow and soon, even Column 3 will soon stop as the rest of the world's time zones pass the century mark for this event.
Of course, the tweets didn't follow up on the victims, so I'll give you a quote taken from the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Nova Scotia which has a special connection to the Titanic:
There were 337 bodies recovered among the icebergs where the Titanic sank. 128 badly damaged or deteriorated bodies were buried at sea while 209 bodies were returned to Halifax. 59 of these were shipped to further destinations for burial.
The largest number of Titanic victims, 150, is buried in three Halifax cemeteries: 19 in the Mount Olivet Cemetery, 10 in the Baron de Hirsch Cemetery, and 121 in the Fairview Lawn Cemetery. 44 victims remain unidentified.
Yesterday, the CBC news broadcasted the Memorial Service held on behalf of the victims.
|Children stand behind gravestones for each of the Titanic victims buried in Fairview Lawn Cemetery, Halifax. (Sabrina Fabian/CBC)
But back to the Twitter feed, I have to admit that @titanicrealtime was a brilliant ploy to capture our attention. Did I say brilliant? Let me underline that… brilliant. Whoever thought this up is a marketing genius.
And do you know what? I can envision this same method used for other historic occasions. Think... the Hindenberg. Or... wait... what about the Easter story! Yes, can you imagine, thousands of people around the world reading and retweeting Jesus' life from his triumphant entry into Jerusalem until they discover the stone rolled to the side and the empty tomb. Of course, there'll be the snide remarks and spoiler alerts, but think of all those people who'll come to know Him because of all the publicity! Oh, what a wonderful idea. Brilliant, I say, simply brilliant.
Did you watch @titanicrealtime? Did you retweet the tweets? What do you think about the whole affair?