The televised image is no longer stationary: It flows through the walking, moving social world. People on buses, trains and sidewalks all over the globe were glued to their handheld screens or laptops. Indoors, thousands stole time from work to watch on their desk computers.
What's more, many of them, thousands and thousands, posted, blogged, and tweeted about it. They turned spectatorship into social discourse, and rarely has such discourse been so joyful.
Dozens of Facebook pages were dedicated to the miners. One titled "Chile to the Miners: A Million Thanks" had more than 8,000 friends. Messages include: "From Costa Rica, our heart is with you" and "From Japan: Chile and the world united for the miners!" and "With this story of hope, we are all family; nationality doesn't matter."
And, in a sign of these communication times, Facebook posters often mentioned they were watching on another medium: CNN, BBC, Sky News. Closing the circle.
Twitter was a cresting tide of support for the miners, with hundreds of thousands of tweets cheering them on. As of 11 a.m. Wednesday on Twitter, the "trending topics" (most popular topics for messages) were Chilean miners, rescue, Alex Vega (one of the rescued miners), cápsula, and so on. As the number of emerging miners moved into the teens, the Spanish word décimo, which begins the words for 10th, 16th, 17th, and so on, became a leading trend word. On #FuerzaMineros ("Miners Force"), lagaceta041 writes: "The embrace of the 10th miner, Vega, with his wife was the longest of the day. It lasted 34 seconds."
There was even good-natured humor. On one Twitter string, titled "If the miners were Mexican," ManuelReznor writes: "As on the subway, everybody would be pushing to get out first xD." On another string, titled "If the miners were Venezuelan," MelaniPSuleiman writes: "The cars of the family members would say on the windows NOW MY SON'S GOING TO GET OUT OF THE MINE."
Beyond satire, tweets, pages, and posts from around the world hailed the efficiency, caution, technical mastery, and success of the rescue effort, with the United States and Chile joining with dozens of private mining companies around the world. Many tweeters wondered whether their own countries could have pulled it off. Joeybee12 commented on DemocrtaticUnderground.com that "I'm very impressed with how they're handling this down there." On the Facebook page titled Chile Miners, Jennifer Hoffman of Kansas City, Mo., wrote, "Well done Chile and all of the many people from around the world who have made this rescue possible." Nguyen Huu Anh Tuan of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, posted what appeared to be photos from the rescue site. Dawn Searle of London wrote: "I am in awe! a triumph of human spirit and engineering ... and still crying."
There were contrarians, such as Claudia Ricci of the Huffington Post, who wrote, "What if even a fraction of the time, care and effort that has been invested in the Chilean mine rescue had been invested in mine safety before the accident?" Some bloggers or commentators groused over bad relations among government, unions, and mine owners. Some economics blogs worried that mining companies might now be hit with increased costs and safety regulations.
But as a word to describe the predominance of pleasure and relief in the Web postings on this event, overwhelming is too small.
It bears a moment's thought. There have been world celebrations of technological daring-do before - as in the 1969 U.S. moon landing. And there have been worldwide media parties over a feel-good news event, as in Lady Diana Spencer's wedding to Prince Charles of England in 1981.
But world news is often about trouble, dread, suffering, loss - or trashy, silly stuff. How often has the world been so united in its joy over a near-tragedy that turned out well?
Michael White, writing in the Guardian newspaper's News Blog, asks, "When was the last time this happened? I've been racking my brains." (http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/blog/2010/oct/13/michael-white-chilean-miners-rescue) He finally lands on Apollo 13 - the worry, suspense, and the palpable relief all round the world when the ingenious astronauts came safely to Earth.
The rescue of the Chilean miners is like that, and the Internet, particularly the news sites and the incredible social network, definitely bound thousands and thousands together in that joy.
Contact John Timpane at 215-854-4406, email@example.com or twitter.com/jtimpane