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Titanic 100th Anniversary

Titanic disaster's 'real shock' was failed technology: Prof

Thane Burnett (QMI Agency)

By Thane Burnett, QMI Agency

A member of the media walks past a photograph of the Titanic departing Queentown, taken by Frank Browne shortly after 1:55 p.m. on April 11, 1912, believed to be the last photograph taken of the ship, during a media day in the newly built Titanic visitor centre at Queen's Island in Belfast on March 13, 2012. (AFP PHOTO/PETER MUHLY)

A member of the media walks past a photograph of the Titanic departing Queentown, taken by Frank Browne shortly after 1:55 p.m. on April 11, 1912, believed to be the last photograph taken of the ship, during a media day in the newly built Titanic visitor centre at Queen's Island in Belfast on March 13, 2012. (AFP PHOTO/PETER MUHLY)

How many Facebook pages would be created if the Titanic went under today?

As is, a main Facebook homage to Titanic, the movie, has more than 19 million "likes".

If the mighty ship went to the bottom now — rather than marking a century on Sunday — how many tweets would be sent out and how many strangers would be standing along the ocean shore to light candles, throw flowers into the water and weep?

Jill Scott, a Queen’s University professor of languages, literature and cultures, said how society mourned in 1912 and how we would grieve now are profoundly different.

A century ago, a reserved pall, with emotions held in check, was the order of the day.

But what mourning there was, said Scott, was as much for the failure of technology as the loss of life.

“The real shock was the loss of the fantasy of endless technological progress,” she said.

When the Titanic disaster took place, life expectancy was shorter and the value placed on human life was different than today.

Death was often seen as a welcome reprieve from suffering and sickness.

But people saw technology as a saviour.

“People lost their lives all the time in that ocean crossing,” she told QMI Agency. “But technology was worshipped.”

If the Titanic wasn’t considered an unsinkable marvel, Scott believes the disaster likely wouldn’t still be resonating as a story today.

Adding to the weight of the legend were the rich and powerful individuals who died.

“There were so many important people on that ship, so it mattered (to society),” she said of the way the story was carried by the media and then through word of mouth.

There is a third element to the story carrying forward, the professor contends. The haunting image of drowning at night in a cold ocean is a universal nightmare.

But at the heart of it, she contends, a turn-of-the-century society was grieving a technological innocence as much — or more — than the bodies lost in that frigid water.

 


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