Massive disasters that claim thousands of lives and change communities forever sometimes also spur the development of radical new technologies, or new ways of applying existing techniques, that otherwise may have occurred more slowly, if at all.

Prior to the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, for example, cellphones were gaining in popularity but were far from ubiquitous. Until the 7.3-magnitude temblor shattered Kobe and its vicinity, they had competed with personal handy-phone systems (PHS), which were less expensive but also less reliable and of limited reception. In the Kobe disaster it became apparent PHS technology wasn't nearly advanced enough to quickly track down loved ones in an emergency. A year or so later, cellphones were everywhere and PHS phones were becoming obsolete.

In future years, last March's megaquake and tsunami, along with the nuclear disaster they triggered, may come to be viewed as a similar watershed moment for social media.