My name is Christi Davis and I’m addicted to Twitter.
As a Colorado native living in Kansas City, I’ve been clinging to Twitter and Facebook for the past few days, hanging on to my memories and watching in horror as my past, quite literally, goes up in smoke. Just like any other addiction, and incidentally the fires themselves, my fixation with social media started small and has escalated with every acre lost.
In the beginning I visited friends’ Facebook pages about once a day in order to keep up with the fire in Fort Collins. My parents live about 30 miles south of the college town and many people from my high school now attend Colorado State University. While I was shocked at the sheer number of acres lost (as of Wednesday, June 27, that number was 87,284 ), I was content knowing that summer classes were continuing as scheduled.
Throughout the following few days I found that my urge to check Twitter would flare up every couple of hours. Especially as the Estes Park fire broke out on the south end of town, just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. For the past 15 years I’ve spent my summers at our family cabin in Glen Haven, a small town seven miles outside of Estes Park. I quickly learned that while 23 houses were lost, the fire was extinguished and my summer home was spared.
My addiction finally reached its peak with the fires in Colorado Springs. The city where I was born is in crisis. With the help of hashtags I was able to sift through the “junk” in my Twitter stream and mainline #WaldoCanyonFire. I watched as 32,000 people were evacuated and the places I loved as a child burned to the ground. New posts were appearing every second and I found myself joining in the madness. I was desperate to share my own sorrows by tagging childhood friends. Keeping an eye on the new posts, I was able to confirm that the church I was baptized in is now gone. After watching homemade videos and devouring TwitPics I’ve lost the hope that my very first home is still standing.
For the past few years Twitter has been gaining in popularity, not only as a place to connect with friends but also as a place to find news. In the #COfire crisis, Twitter has become so much more. Twitter is a shoulder to cry on. A place to satisfy our worry. A place to share our deepest feelings, our most horrifying experiences. A place to feel useful and a place to seek help.
In the past I have attempted to explain the purpose of a hashtag to confused friends and family members. But in the past, most people weren’t using the hashtag for its intended purpose. I mean, no one really cares who else is talking about #cool, #soexcited or #pants. #Seriously.
Alas, a crisis changes everything. Finally we Twitter users can utilize the hashtag and see the value in this incredibly helpful tool. By using hashtags like #HighParkFire #FlagstaffFire #StateLineFire and the catchall #COfire, people have access to whatever they need, in one place and in real time.
Twitter allows people like me, those physically in other states but with their hearts in Colorado, to get the most up-to-date information. Twitter provides us with evacuation information. We can see pictures and video shot by real people in the area. News stations are uploading maps of fire areas and giving statistics like the number of acres burned, percentage of containment, homes lost and people displaced.
To those in the thick of it all, social media is even more important. It allows people to come together like no tool we’ve ever seen. Some of my friends have posted on Facebook, offering their homes to friends and “friends of friends” that have been evacuated. Others have been calling their Twitter followers to action by asking for donations of needed supplies to local fire stations. Everyone wants to know how to help, in this situation that makes us feel helpless. Insurance agencies and law firms are tweeting out information for people who need to file for property loss, replace wills and even qualify for unemployment. The Humane societies are offering to take in lost pets and the YMCA, local schools and many other organizations are opening their doors to evacuees. IKEA is even offering discounts on furniture to those who lost their homes.
Yes, everyone knows that crisis brings communities together. But in a world addicted to social media, those communities just got a whole lot bigger.