The Future = Now x Acceleration

Connectivity During A Time Of Calamity

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I’ve started several drafts of this blog post in the past week and rejected them in favor of staying more or less on point.

As the anniversary of the attacks in Manhattan, Arlington, Va. and Shanksville, Pa. draw nearer, you will likely be bombarded with rememberances. This is one.

I felt a special connection with New York and Washington, D.C. in the fall of 2001 as I had visited Manhattan (and the World Trade Center) for a week in spring break and had spent the summer covering Congress for the Medill News Service. I lived in Arlington, Va. and transfered from the bus to the Metro daily at the Pentagon.

Clerence Page (a journalistic hero of mine) had delivered the keynote address for my graduate school commencement ceremony that summer whereby he lauded us for living during a time of “Pax Americana.”

In September, my wife and I were in Europe for four months while I completed a study abroad internship.

Americans in Europe experienced a different 9/11 than their fellow countrymen. They, as I, witnessed the shock, the horror and the utter concern for their U.S. counterparts. The Italians in Pisa, Italy that day guided us through the afternoon, eager to help however they could. Offers to use their computers to send email or offers to come into their home or business to watch CNN poured in.

Everywhere we went for weeks afterward; Switzerland, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic; everyone wanted to know if we were OK and whether we wanted to come into their home or shop and watch CNN or send an email from their computer. The goodwill and solidarity expressed in the weeks and months afterward were unmatched and much appreciated.

Communication technology wasn’t what it is today those ten short years ago. U.S. and European cell phones were largely incompatible. Landline phone calls were ridiculously expensive. Skype didn’t exist.

But email did. For four months, my main method of communication with family and friends was email. My dialup provider, ExecPC, had developed a Webmail interface that month. It was new. Prior to that, I used a tool developed by the University of Washington called PINE. It was a Telnet based email, newsgroups and text editor that was popular with UNIX wonks.

Many fewer people had Internet access at home, so I would have to send messages to my sister to print out and take to my parents. Contact between my wife and her family were through me emailing her best friend at work so messages could be printed out and delivered.

We allowed ourselves two, 20-minute phone calls at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Together, they cost about $120.

That time in Prague highlighted for me how behind the U.S. was relative to Europe. All cellphone systems in Europe were digital, integrated, inexpensive and compatible. SMS text messaging was widespread and pervasive. Cell service was available in the subways which were hundreds of feet underground. All teens had smartphones.

Back home, my cell phone was still an analog Motorola bag phone.

Technical differences aside, the one thing that still sticks with me after all this time was the desire of my European hosts to share that most basic instinct during a time of great crisis and turmoil — the means to stay connected to loved ones and friends through whatever means they had.


Written by digitalanalogues

September 9, 2011 at 4:42 PM

One Response

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  1. On September 11 of 2001, I woke up in the morning a ten year old and all I could think of was “Tomorrow I am going to wake up and be 11.” I went about my day as excited as ever to get it over, so I could have my birthday. I went to school and watched the clock tick. Then the worst terrorist attack in history struck the World Trade Centers. Looking back now, I didn’t fully understand the hugeness of the event. Sitting here now it is crazy to think that my children and my grandchildren are going to read about this historic tragedy in their history books. My class got out of school early and all I can remember is watching the planes hit the buildings over and over again on television. I didn’t have a cell phone to post a Facebook status, or Tweet about the event, and I was 10 so I didn’t have my own laptop to e-mail my friends about what was happening. But sitting here 10 years later, everyone on my news feed and Twitter is remembering September 11, 2001 in different ways. My day started out so normal, and ended in a world changing tragedy.


    September 11, 2011 at 8:18 PM

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