9/11 Changed the Way We Communicate

Updated Fri, Sep 9, 2011 8:47 pm

As we entered a new century, 2001 was a year of upheaval. It was the events of September 11 that launched this country and the media on paths of change.

It was a line of demarcation in many people’s lives and in the collective life of our country. The pulse of the nation has never been the same and neither would be our PASSION for instant communication.

As a result of the terror, we became more insular as a country but simultaneously, more communicative. As we were struck by the terror on that day and drew close to our families and friends, we saw our communication devices grind to a halt.

Cellphones were in their infancy and Smartphones did not exist. Their meager networks were jammed by people trying to use them all at once. Regular telephone lines were destroyed and as a nation we went back to the familiarity of television to paint the horrible picture of what was unfolding. Television was like an old friend. It had nurtured many of us through a Presidential assassination and other national tragedies and it was our primary source of news on 9/11.

But,on that day,television wasn’t mobile. Millions of Americans huddled around screens at home, in the work place and in commercial establishments to get a glimpse of what was happening. If we were torn away from the screen, it was as if communication stopped.

Yes, we had radio and newspapers and regular telephones. But, they all seemed inadequate at quenching our thirst for first-hand information, pictures, insight, and the most up-to-date safety and security information.

On 9/11, I was in Florida speaking at a judges’ conference. I had to drive back to Ohio over that crucial 24 hour period after the attack and the only thing I had with me was the rental car radio which by today’s standard seems woefully inadequate. I was concerned about the safety of my family and my safety but I was relegated to national news programs and there was no news or information tailored specifically for my needs.

Texting essentially didn’t exist in 2001. Twitter was nonexistent and Facebook was not invented until some three years later. Social media was something that may have been envisioned but it wasn’t readily available.

Recently, the Poynter Institute reported that Washington Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth stated we were better off without social media during 9/11. I couldn’t disagree more.

She said: “…while we are all incredibly grateful for the ways in which technology has enhanced our lives, I think we are also grateful that we didn’t live through 9/11 with all of that technology.”

“We didn’t have to see live video footage shot from inside the collapsing buildings and uploaded onto YouTube. Cellphones didn’t have cameras back then…Can you imagine how horrifying it would have been if we had tweets from the victims on the planes or in the offices, or if they had posted to their Facebook pages? … Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and all the technologies that have yet to be invented make all these events more real, and more horrific. Television pales in comparison.”

It seems Weymouth, as the head of a prestigious news organization, is arguing for a sanitized version of news. That philosophy is old-school and no longer relevant.

Today we want our news instantly. We want it raw and unedited.

We want to see the airplane that landed in the Hudson River. We want to know about earthquakes and other natural tragedies. It is reported that there were tweets within a minute of the recent earthquake but the television networks took at least 15 minutes to start covering the story.

We want to be able to participate with young people through social media during uprisings in Egypt, Syria and Libya.

No longer is the “mainstream media” the gatekeepers of information and that is a good thing. During times of national tragedy and attack, we want MORE information NOT LESS. And, we want it INSTANTANEOUSLY and not when the networks or newspapers have filtered it and sanitized it for us.

In my view, the lack of rapid and reliable communication sources frustrated us during 9/11 and from that tragedy came our culture’s insatiable desire to obtain information immediately and in its rawest form.

Desire led to innovation and innovations have thrust us into the midst of instantaneous news. That’s a good thing.