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

Much as the reporters covering the assassination of John F. Kennedy invented broadcast journalism of the late 20c, reporters (and bloggers) covering the 9/11 terrorist attacks invented the early 21c media landscape. I remember in that era, newspapers like the Washington post uploaded their entire new edition at around midnight, rather than publishing the stories as they were ready. While the towers were burning, the top Google hits for searches for “World Trade Center” pointed to pages where you could purchase tours, or pages hosted by companies in the towers that, understandably, went 404. Google update its search results with a custom message, telling people who were looking for news about the attacks to look at the front pages of various news sites. (I seem to remember CNN being one of those links.) But the news organizations weren’t prepared for the spike in traffic, and as the day went on, those sites sometimes went down, too.

With nothing better to do, I made a web page (hand-coded in HTML) that collected literary and cultural references to skyscrapers, and specifically to the twin towers themselves. World Trade Center: Literary and Cultural Reflections.

Here’s what Wired has to say about how technology has changed in just 18 short years.

I kept running across telling details, like the anachronistic first words of Lauren Grandcolas’ final voice message, that made me stop and think about how comparatively primitive communications were when those September 11 attacks unfolded. How people turned to their BlackBerrys for information, posted their reactions to the attacks on LiveJournal, and shared concern with friends over AOL Instant Messenger. | We think of 9/11 as part of our modern world—it was, in many ways, the hinge upon which many of the forces of today turn, from Donald Trump’s xenophobia to the instability in the Middle East to the forever war in Afghanistan. In our memories it often seems like September 11, 2001, represents the beginning of the modern world, yet the deeper I got into studying 9/11, the more I felt that it was less the beginning of the 21st century and more the ending of the 20th century—a relic of the analog age rather than the dawn of the digital. —Wired

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