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A Sudden Reversal Of Flow On The Network

Goodman described the moment where Cooper and Gupta, embedded in the disaster zone of Japan, looked into the camera with an expression that said “what are we supposed to be doing?” Cooper is well known for showing up with cameras into scenes of chaos and disaster. It was a brief moment of silence on the cable network, the kind of silence that professional broadcasters are trained to never let happen.

Cooper is used to imposing his will on scenes of disaster. He turns the chaos into stories for the folks back home. Japan was different, it isn’t a third-world country, and it’s perfectly capable of telling its own story. Japan is the third largest economy in the world—this was more like looking directly in the mirror. Cooper had traveled halfway across the world to find that he was unable to establish a distance between himself and the scenes unfolding around him.

As usual, in a crisis, Cooper sits at the focal point of a vast array of real-time feeds. Reporters, invited experts, other news feeds, along with everything else on the Network is at his disposal. Historically, Cooper has had the best view of what’s going on right now. In Japan, he seemed behind the curve, he didn’t know where to focus or how to tell a story about what had happened. Cooper never seemed to find a vantage point high enough to create a narrative that scooped up the whole story.

What used to be called the audience also sits at the focal point of an array of real-time sources. “Viewers” can tell when Cooper is just thrashing around, muddying the waters rather than providing a clear view. Udell, listening to reports about radiation levels, was confused about the scale of the problem. He was able to ask Wolfram Alpha to translate the units discussed into the broadcast into a something that he could use to make a reasonable assessment of the situation. Cooper’s blankness caused the audience to start surfing the Network, building a picture from a variety of other sources.

It seemed like he’d done this a thousand times before, but here Cooper was confronted by the fact that this wasn’t a single event that could be isolated and characterized. An earthquake linked to a tsunami linked to a nuclear power plant disaster–and then more earthquakes. The mesh of events in Japan were not only linked to each other, but linked to things all over the world. The events raced through the network of the earth’s fault lines, through the wave forms and currents of the ocean, through the network of systems producing electric power, through the manufacturing systems with just-in-time global supply chains, through the global capital markets, through the network of luxury goods producers and retailers. Cooper was embedded in the middle of the wreckage of the tsunami monitoring the events at the nuclear power plant, but he could have been reporting from anywhere. The events were without a bounded human sense of locality, they were global and simultaneous.

It was in Cooper’s thrashing, that for a brief moment, the peer-to-peer nature of the broadcast was brought into view. His overall contribution to the real-time picture of unfolding events was substantially less than other nodes on the Network. And in the moment that Goodman describes, Cooper’s productive output of information approached zero, he stared, became blurry, unfocused—”What are we supposed to be doing?” Foreground and background exchanged places, the flow of information suddenly reversed direction. And in that moment of silence, the background surged forward and washed over the news anchors, and flowed out of screens all over the world. Another tsunami.

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