On Friday morning some footage of this tornado hitting Theodore, Alabama came across the wire. This sort of in-the-moment footage from the ground once was rare and came to us primarily from news cameras.

These days, everything is captured by security cameras and mobile phones and broadcast throughout the world almost immediately, using YouTube and social networks to spread.

Some are convinced we're in the End Times or speculating 2012 Mayan calendar conspiracies. Of course, there have always been frequent natural disasters, they're just brought into our homes more quickly and more vividly than ever before, as witnessed with the recent disasters in Japan:

During peak hours, Twitter users in Japan posted over 1,200 tweets per minute, which amounted to an ongoing real-time, hyper-personal account of the devastation. This is an anomaly, when you consider that Japan is one of the most technologically developed nations in the world. We did not see this kind of social media volume in Haiti, for instance. As the world becomes inexorably more wired, this trend will become the norm.

Google Earth also allows people to witness the disaster from above, with these harrowing before-and-after images.

But it's not all voyeurism. Being so immediately confronted with carnage has inspired people to engage in unprecedented levels of aid. And recent technological advances have made it easier than ever to donate.