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For ambulance-chasing bloggers, tragedy equals opportunity

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No human disaster these days is complete without two things, both of which can be guaranteed to surface within 24 hours of the event.

First, virus writers will release a topical new piece of malware. And then weblog evangelists proclaim how terrific the catastrophe is for the internet. It doesn't seem to matter how high the bodies are piled - neither party can be deterred from its task.

For the technology evangelists, the glee is barely containable. The daily business of congratulating each other jumps to a whole new level with all the bloggers marveling in unison at their ability to detail real-time tragedy.

December's tsunami, which left over 100,000 dead in Asia, rapidly became an excuse to trumpet the superiority of those using this new technology. Although far more people read first hand reports from friends via email, it was the weblog evangelists who touted it as a breakthrough.

London's terror bombings left over 50 dead yesterday, but that was beside the point. The real significance of the attacks, burbled one blogger, "is yet another exemplary case study in using this electric medium as both a means and a space in which to communicate". Digging deep into her contacts book for an impartial expert, a reporter for The Guardian got as far as a colleague.

"Blogs excel as an arena for people to exchange first-hand experiences and many witnesses to the events in London told their tales online while bloggers from around the globe sent messages of support and condolences," we learned.

It's almost beyond belief that for some technology evangelists, the health of a society can be measured by the fact that the routers are humming and the packets are flying.

If Garry Trudeau is right, the media's fascination with computer networks is almost over, and the message may start to be valued more than the medium. Yesterday, several veteran writers who use the weblog format urged others to put the event into perspective.

"Now is not the time to point to a ‘wiki’ setup to collect information about the bombs in London, and smugly say how much better it is at covering the news than the New York Times," wrote Shelley Powers. "Now is not the time to bring up the incriminations of why this happened and use it as fodder and ammunition in this stupid oneupmanship that characterizes too many of the popular web sites.

"Don’t use this event to promote weblogging."

Seth Finkelstein called it for what it is: "ambulance chasing".

So who's more tasteless, the VXers or the technology evangelists? Both represent extremes of cynicism, but in one way, it's the latter. Just as some people find that they can sit impassively through TV coverage of human carnage, only to be moved by an image of an injured pet, others only see a human tragedy when it's validated by a computer network. ®

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