The panic that swept through the greater metropolitan areas of Gauteng earlier this week – based on the mass distribution of mischievous SMS and e-mail messages warning of a late afternoon typhoon associated with an official weather forecast that predicted the possibility of particularly violent thunderstorms across the region – prompted entirely predictable reactions in various quarters.
Victims of what was obviously a hoax vented their anger after being duped while some ICT industry pundits crowed about how the exercise proved yet again the power of the technology that they sell. Others called for regulatory controls to be imposed to avoid abuse of these messaging systems.
For those who were caught up in horrific mid-afternoon traffic jams that were later aggravated by normal rush-hour, all the anger and frustration of being involved in the gridlock was compounded by the realisation that they had been suckered.
Employers who fell for the ruse and sent staff home early to avoid "doomsday" but to fight the traffic maelstrom, vented their anger at being robbed of a few hours of productivity.
All very predictable, really. And nothing new. Since the dawn of time communication in one form or another has been at the heart of virtually every action and reaction known to man.
While technology has dramatically altered the scale and reach of so-called communication, the very essence of communication is and always will be in the content – the information contained in whatever medium is chosen to communicate.
History is littered with gullible people who acted, reacted or ignored information without taking the time or trouble to check it out – regardless of how they received or came across the information.
Even in the days when "word of mouth" was the only option and even later when "snail mail" was king of communication, people fell prey to what we seem to think is a new, technology-inspired curse called "spam".
The cell phone and Internet may have altered the speed and scale of distribution, but nothing much else has changed.
And the real lesson? Information, regardless of how it may be received, is virtually useless until it’s turned into fact.
– David Bryant