Time selective sympathy

After interviewing Maiko for a radio story on Japan one year after the earthquake, I couldn’t get her story out of my mind. So when the next day, we were asked to write editorials in our print class, I used her story again in my take on humanitarian aid and social media.

Time selective sympathy

On March 11, 2011, all eyes were on Japan. More than 20,000 people lost their lives or went missing after a 9.0 earthquake rocked the country and massive tsunami washed over the rubble.

In response, the world opened their hearts and their wallets to share an outpouring of support to the disaster-stricken country. They also opened their laptops. On that day, the hashtag #PrayForJapan was the #1 most popular topic on Twitter and 5,530 tweets per second were sent out.

It was tragic, it was timely, and it was trending. Now, one year later, it’s tapped-out.

The #1 most popular Twitter topic on March 11, 2012 was #10MusiciansIWannaBang.

The urgency and immediacy for aid has worn off—perhaps because the reality isn’t a day-to-day experience for the rest of the world. The colossal event has come and gone. The footage has been forgotten, and other events have become more exciting.

But while it seems as if the rest of the world has stopped tweeting and praying for those stricken by the disaster, Japan has done anything but forget.

22-year-old Maiko Kurtotaki lost everything as a result of the quake—her home, her possessions, her entire livelihood. She has since rebuilt, but is still faced with the reality of the disaster every single day. With fears of another quake and the effects of radiation, Kurotaki carries bags of food with her everywhere she goes and won’t spend long periods of time outdoors.

For weeks after the quake, breaking news stories splashed the covers of newspapers and television screens around the world, but soon they faded, being replaced with other stories. Not in Japan. The fateful day the country was rocked and the resulting damage remains in the news every day—so prominently that Kurotaki refuses to buy a television.

So while 325,000 Japanese people are still in temporary housing and landscape of the country is in shambles, the need for aid remains, but the attention has ceased.

It’s easy to tweet when it’s trending and sympathize when it’s sensational, but what humanitarian aid is missing is follow through. So as tweeters around the world go on following the trends, those living in the country still face the reality of #PrayForJapan.

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