The Oblivion Curve

When I sit down to write this column, I usually take a few minutes to review the major events of the past two weeks. This time, there was a lot to think about, which means there was plenty to write about.

First, U.S. District Judge Mary Lou Robinson denied the American Quarter Horse Association’s (AQHA) motion for summary judgment in the cloning lawsuit, meaning the case is headed to trial. The judge also rejected the plaintiffs’ (Jason Abraham and Gregg Veneklasen) argument that AQHA attempted to monopolize the market by excluding cloned horses. The trial is expected to start this summer. The results could have far-reaching effects, not only for the AQHA, but all membership-based equine associations.

Then, as this issue went to print, the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) began legal proceedings against Glory Ann Kurtz, who operates the website allaboutcutting.com. The NCHA says Kurtz has requested third party and employee records while refusing to sign a nondisclosure form, and points to a 2009 judgment against another NCHA member over similar issues to strengthen their case. With the NCHA requesting approximately $100,000 to cover the expense of suing Kurtz, I am sure we haven’t heard the last of this one. 

By far, the biggest news event of the past few weeks was the massive tornados that hit Moore, Okla., and Granbury, Texas. The F5 tornado in Moore caused the most widespread damage and loss of life, both human and equine, but for those individuals in the path of the Granbury tornado, the consequences were just as horrific.

In the days following the tornados, relief efforts were highly publicized. It was impossible to turn on the television, open a newspaper or log onto Facebook without seeing pictures of the devastation and instructions on how to help.

With each passing day, however, things started to change. As Quarter Horse News updated disaster relief efforts and damage estimates on our website and Facebook, the number of hits and shares began to drop. Just four days after the tragedy in Moore, the number of people who were interested in reading updates on the relief efforts dropped by more than 50 percent. From a journalist’s perspective, it was disheartening to see, yet not unprecedented.

Two scientists, Tohoku University Associate Professor Yuzuru Isoda and Ritusmeikan Asia Pacific University Associate Professor William Claster, studied what they called the “oblivion curve” after the 2009 tsunami that struck Japan and the resulting Fukushime nuclear crisis. Their June 2009 paper assessed how quickly people forgot about that particular disaster by studying Twitter tweet counts. What they found was the half-life of global attention, the period in which the frequency of tweets was reduced by one-half, was about five days for the tsunami and six and one-half days for the nuclear crisis. The speed of oblivion of global attention, they found, is much faster than the rate of decay of the deadly radioactive substances that made headlines in the first place.

The professors stated: “The purpose of this article is not to grumble at the global public for their posthaste amnesia, but to revive mindfulness of age-old Japanese counsel: ‘a disaster strikes when it is forgotten.’ The proverb articulates three messages: an unimaginably long recurrence period; a hazard may become a disaster if people are not prepared for it; and we forget. Whether we can beat the saying or we have to live with it, we do not know.”

The same human nature that rouses us to reach out and help those affected by natural disasters – as evidenced by the immediate outpouring of donations – also causes us to just as quickly go back to the steady routine of our normal lives. Unless you have a family member or friend affected by the tornados, you probably haven’t thought too much about what those people in Moore and Granbury are still going through.

Personally, I am guilty of following the oblivion curve. In the immediate aftermath of the tornados, I helped by disseminating information and donating when and where I could. Having read too many stories of pets lost in the wreckage, I vowed to make my own emergency preparedness plan. I had every good intention of buying extra collars and leashes for the dogs and stashing them in the closet and car. Whether we had to hunker down through a tornado or run from a fire, we would be ready.

It’s been 13 days since the Granbury tornado and eight since the one in Moore. I am no closer to having an emergency plan than I was two weeks ago, and my subconscious has stopped prodding me to help the victims. I am exactly the statistic represented in the oblivion curve. But, I am fighting back.

No matter if the next tornado strikes next month or in two years, I choose to be prepared. I choose to remember the victims in Granbury and Moore and the ongoing relief efforts. I may not be able to do much to change the global attention span, which wanes in five days, but I can change mine. Will you do the same? Together, we can beat the oblivion curve.