How we communicated on 9/11

Pagers, Pay Phones, and Dial Up: How We Communicated on 9/11

I largely avoided social media and the internet yesterday because of the significance of the day. It wasn’t anything pious, a deliberate remembrance;  but I knew what the topic would be, and I just wanted to turn the volume down, so to speak. Today, however, I spotted an article on how we shared the news, circa 2001, and it struck my interest. As I processed the news all day in school,  I distinctly remember worrying about whether the Internet would still be working.   It was, as I remember reading the news online (not something I usually wasted valuable internet time on) and talking about the news at 3DO’s forums, which were the center of my internet existence then.     The article has an insightful conclusion, in which the author suggests that an event like 9/11, if experienced through today’s social media, would not have the same unitive effect, as people would be absorbed by their private experiences of the news,  gleaned from their own various sources (facebook, reddit, 4chan,  twitter, etc),  instead of drawn together.


“The attacks of September 11 might have been the first global catastrophe experienced in real time by hundreds of millions of people around the world. The first footage came almost immediately, from WNYW-TV Fox 5 on its morning show Good Day New York. CNN had a live feed trained on the Twin Towers at 8:49, barely three minutes after the first plane hit.”  […]

“Over the next hour, President Bush was rushed aboard Air Force One, which rocketed into the sky, a move that protected him yet ultimately compromised his access to information. Back then, the president’s plane had no satellite or cable TV nor access to email, so the plane relied on the equivalent of old rabbit-ear TV antennas to pick up local TV coverage as it flew over the southeastern United States. As Fleischer told me, “It put us in a very different spot than most Americans that day. People around the world were riveted to their television sets. We had it intermittently on Air Force One … When you’re in the air, you’re cut off.”

Sonya Ross, the AP reporter in the presidential press pool on 9/11, recalls, “We didn’t know where we were going, but they must’ve been circling, because we kept watching the local feed of a Florida station going in and out. That was our tiny window into the outside world.”

Think about that: For much of the day, those aboard Air Force One with the President of the United States were less informed than the average American sitting at home watching CNN.”

And most startling:
“Eighteen years ago, 9/11 split our lives—dividing the world into before and after. It’s hard not to wonder, given all that has come since and the tools, apps, and social media that have grown to dominate our culture, whether today we wouldn’t simply fit even an event at the scale of 9/11 into our existing routines and rituals. Whether, rather than uniting together in a national moment, we would all put ourselves at the center of the story instead. It seems likely that today we would turn not to one another for comfort, to grieve as a nation, but instead each burrow even deeper into our now ever-present phones, scrolling, clicking, liking, and emoji-ing as the tragedy unfolded.”

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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2 Responses to How we communicated on 9/11

  1. I find this article so accurate and that is unfortunate. We would not be united at all, I too fear. We are already so divided as a nation and Heaven forbid, something like this occurred again, I don’t know if there would be any coming back from it.

    I was a freshman in college when the attacks occurred and I will never forget that day for as long as I live. Every year on the 11th I read ‘If You Want to Humble an Empire’, because I feel like it perfectly captures what it felt like to live through it, moment by moment. I also cry every year, because it is as real now as it was then.

    • Thank you for sharing that article! I don’t know if I’d read it before. I never knew someone tried to shimmy down the outside of the tower…maybe the “falling man” wasn’t a suicide, but someone whose attempt to exit didn’t work. I’ve also never read about the day in DC or Pennsylvania.

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