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Each one of us has our own unique story of where we were when we learned of the attack on the World Trade Center towers. It’s a story we’ve told to friends and a story we’ll continue to tell as this event transforms from a living reality to a historical one. Some were awoken by roommates, others informed by colleagues passing through the hall, and others happened to turn on the television and watch with horror as the World Trade Center towers burned and finally collapsed. As word spread, though, Americans became united in their need to know exactly what had happened. We turned on the television, we paused to listen to radios filtering out of cars, we visited Internet news sources again and again, clutching and grasping for facts, hoping that some sort of clarity would calm us. Hour after hour we sat by the television trying to make sense of it all. Unconfirmed reports were treated as facts by frantic news anchors, sketchy reports of hijacking were announced and then confirmed. The news changed by the minute.
A nation in shock began calling loved ones across the country, just to check in and to share the horror together. Cell phone networks were inoperable in many areas of the country, not just in New York. Web-traffic became so congested that viewing CNN’s web page became virtually impossible. We used these fleeting news sources as a way to grasp reality. But for many it didn’t become a reality until we saw it the way our parents and grandparents had in years past; black and white banner headlines announcing the tragedy in a format that couldn’t be refreshed, revised, or corrected. It was permanent, and it was true. The unimaginable had happened.
And for those of us outside of New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C. we used the technology around us to begin to comprehend. Trying to understand what it was like when the building collapsed, we listened to and read countless witness testimonies. Though weary with despair we felt that it was our duty to experience the agony of watching the collision and the collapse over and over again, as if we could alleviate some of the New Yorkers’ suffering by taking some of it on as our own. We watched around-the-clock coverage from ground zero; we contributed to discussion boards and listservs on the Internet, we held countless discussions among family members and friends.
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"Using Technology to Cope with Terrorism." 123HelpMe.com. 26 Feb 2020
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As the basic facts became clear, we then began to grieve. Web sites became on-line memorials for the missing, photo galleries of patriotism, mourning, and rescue efforts were available on Internet service providers and news sites. Some searched for that one picture that could condense all the feelings of rage, sadness, and fear into a single image; a child clutching a flag, a weeping firefighter, a stoic president. We looked to sentimentalize because we could not grasp reality, and our media and technology allowed us to do this.
This technology gave us a collective sense of what had happened and how we were to react to it. This also had downside, though. Email hoaxes and rumors flooded in boxes with everything from unfounded survival tales to the ‘predictions’ of Nostradamus, as the September 11th tragedy became more myth than truth. Theories of conspiracy were given venues to rapidly proliferate as worldwide audiences watched as well as participated.
Now our days are filled with minute-by-minute updates of retaliation from both sides, coming at us so quickly that we are unable to fully comprehend it all. Once again, we rely on technology as a beacon of light, guiding us through the darkness of uncertainty and fear.