On April 5th, 2010 the Upper Big Branch mine exploded. Twenty-nine miners died in the blast, and while there’s an official, state made, memorial site a few miles up the road in a little town called Whitesville, this unofficial one is right outside the mine:
After taking the photo I notice that I don’t have any service or internet on my phone. I imagine what this scene would look like almost anywhere else in the country on the night of the accident: citizen journalists capturing video and photos, people writing facebook updates and tweets, #UpperBigBranch started within moments, and the world informed within minutes. The explosion was national news, but it took awhile (or our relative perception of awhile) for the rest of the country to hear about it.
Sociologist Goran Therborn talks about our digital world as an event society or a “society of experience…a society that privileges intense but superficial experiences oriented toward instant happening in the present and consumption of goods, cultural events, and mass-marketed lifestyles.” (from Twitter: Social Communication in the Twitter Age by Dhiraj Murthy) If this is true, then what does that make society in the digital divide? What does it make this memorial? The purpose of a memorial is to keep the present aware of the past and can’t social media be used to that same end? In writing this blog and sharing my picture I’m continuing to share the Upper Big Branch story and not only that, I’m recapitulating what once was a national news story back onto a national stage.
Yet, there’s something befitting and reverent about the digital silence here. In an age that wants access to everything this is a part of the world people need to travel to and see. Words, images, and videos don’t quite do it justice. There’s a toughness and indomitable nature to both the people and the landscape that tells people, “earn it.”