Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Like Before The Internet Went Psycho

It’s easy for old people like me to talk about how Twitter and Facebook have turned the internet into the cyber equivalent of Wal-Mart—an ugly, over-crowded mess full of hapless, hopeless shoppers who have nothing to say yet still talk too much.

(Some of us who lived through the CIS/AOL wars have never gotten over the AOL victory.)

So now what used to be an interesting community of smart, fun people to talk to is just wall-to-wall scoundrels calling people names and saying, endlessly, “I liked that!” or “I didn’t like that!”

But a few days ago I saw the internet working like it used to work, a cool place, smart and fun and interesting.

It started here, in a little town in Greenland named “Ilulissat” where people have lived for something like 4,000 years. That’s even longer than the internet has been around, for you AOL readers. (Sorry. I’ll stop.)

Every year on January 13th, people from all over Greenland trek to Ilulissat because the Arctic night ends and the Sun rises for the first time, ending their long winter darkness.

It normally looks something like this:

But the people of Ilulissat were shocked this year when the Sun appeared something like two days early.

And thanks to things like Twitter and the rest, a lot of people freaked out about it.

In Britain, the Daily Mail did an article about it, speculating that maybe global warming was causing glaciers to melt:

The sun rises two days early in Greenland, sparking fears that climate change is accelerating

And AccuWeather wondered if extreme methane buildup might be changing atmospheric refraction (this was at least a reasonable kind of wild theory which, in fact, might still be true):

"Sunrise" Two Days Early in Greenland

Other internet sites were less reasonable. Much less.

At ZetaTalk they blamed the impending crustal shift and end of the world, and at Sorcha Faal they also were talking about the end of the world:

Of course this is from the Earth wobble, which has gotten increasingly violent and extreme

Greenland Sunrise Shocks World As Superstorms Pound Planet


There are a lot of astronomers and astrophysicists in the world and many of them have websites. Astronomers, in particular, are some of the friendliest people in the world. If someone thinks the world’s ending, they should—excuse me—fucking look around for an astronomer’s website and ask him or her if, in fact, the world is really ending. They’ll give a good answer!

I stopped in at an astronomer’s site called, The Half-Astrophysicist Blog, by Rob Sparks. Not only was he looking carefully at the phenomenon without going crazy, but—just like the good old days before AOL!—smart and interesting people were dropping in to chat and share some cool facts.

In fact, a high school physics teacher who lives in Greenland [!] stopped by and gave some local background and then contacted the Niels Bohr Institute at the Copenhagen University and got the real expert opinion of what had happened. As most reasonable people had kind of figured out, the “early sunrise” almost certainly was an atmospheric effect similar to a common mirage. And as more reports filtered out, it wasn’t really too unusual of an occurrence after all.

People who looked around for an astronomer got the facts and got help cutting through the crazy and got some fun, interesting background info just for hanging around. That’s what the internet can do when the Facebook and Twitter nuts and scum are ignored.

If only it could always be that way.

(And yes I realize that by calling the Facebook/Twitter people names I’m just being a contemporary scoundrel, but I don’t do it often and it really is awful what they’ve done to the online world. I don’t like that! )

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