Reuters

This is more true than ever in the digital age.

A crowd is a vulnerable target in nearly any context. The more people, the more potential casualties of a terror attack, and the bigger the impact on the collective psyche of such an attack on everyone who gathers anywhere for street parties or book fairs or jazz festivals. But the thing about crowds is that for all the ways in which they're susceptible to harm, they're also resilient to its aftermath.

Spectators in a crowd quickly become first responders. Runners in a marathon become the best documentarians of its chaotic conclusion. And the targets of an attack instantly become its best witnesses.

This has never been more true than in the digital age, when so many people pointing cameras and cell phones at the world around them wind up inadvertently gathering the best evidence of a crime scene. Writing online for the New Yorker this afternoon, Nicholas Thompson eloquently touched on this idea:

The end of a marathon is a place for photography, and video. Someone, somewhere, will look through the pictures they snapped and see something.

And the Boston Police Department is obviously thinking the same thing. They've already asked the public to turn over any video from the explosion. This is probably weak solace today in the wake of a tragedy where we already know at least two have died, but it's comforting to remember that crowds are powerful wells of information (from which justice might arise) for the very same reasons that they're also targets of terrible intentions.

Top image: People look for updates on their mobile phones after attacks at the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon in Boston, Massachusetts April 15, 2013. (REUTERS)

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. photo: bicyclists in Paris during a transit strike in December.
    Transportation

    Paris Mayor: It's Time for a '15-Minute City'

    In her re-election campaign, Mayor Anne Hidalgo says that every Paris resident should be able to meet their essential needs within a short walk or bike ride.

  2. Life

    Why Amsterdam May Clamp Down on Weed and Sex Work

    Proposals to ban cannabis for tourists and relocate the red-light district would dramatically reshape the city’s anything-goes image.

  3. animated illustration: cars, bikes, scooters and drones in motion.
    Transportation

    This City Was Sick of Tech Disruptors. So It Decided to Become One.

    To rein in traffic-snarling new mobility modes, L.A. needed digital savvy. Then came a privacy uproar, a murky cast of consultants, and a legal crusade by Uber.

  4. Equity

    There Are Far More Americans Without Broadband Access than Previously Thought

    The Federal Communications Commission says 21 million Americans lack high-speed internet access, but a new report says the actual figure is double that.

  5. photo: Cranes on the skyline in Oakland, California
    Life

    How to Make a Housing Crisis

    The new book Golden Gates details how California set itself up for its current affordability crunch—and how it can now help build a nationwide housing movement.

×