We were ahead of the game back on 9/11. September 11, 2012 1:14 PM   Subscribe

HuffPo asks, "What would 9/11 be like if social media was around?"

The post discusses how 9/11 would have perceived and reported so differently had social media such as Twitter and Facebook and online social forums had been as active as it is today. And someone chides, "Obviously you haven't hear of Metafilter" and links it to this this infamous 9/11 Metafilter thread
posted by HeyAllie to MetaFilter-Related at 1:14 PM (119 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

I had a friend posting (email) updates using his blackberry from the stairs while evacuating. I guess that counts as liveblogging?
posted by Karmakaze at 1:17 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's so strange. I followed it moment-by-moment on two message boards, livejournal, here, and a couple of proto-blogs. I guess I forget that we didn't have FB and Twitter and all that, and I felt pretty connected without them.
posted by batmonkey at 1:24 PM on September 11, 2012 [21 favorites]


Yeah, social media was very much "around" then. I remember spending most of the day in the university computer lab, refreshing the page on my browser over and over, so I could catch the updates when people from my favorite message board checked in.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:35 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


The writer was 13 in 2001. That's a potentially limited perspective in terms of what social media was "around" then.
posted by sweetkid at 1:44 PM on September 11, 2012 [60 favorites]


Yeah, the writer seems to be saying in this piece that if Facebook and Twitter were around then, I could have talked to my mommy. Waaah.

I think the biggest difference was that cell phones didn't have cameras/texting. That would have given us a huge perspective about what was happening inside the towers.
posted by Melismata at 1:47 PM on September 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Slashdot was there too, and managed to stay up better than many of the major news sites.
posted by mbrubeck at 1:47 PM on September 11, 2012 [10 favorites]


Today's pedantic copy editor humor: "evacuate." lol bowels.
posted by klangklangston at 1:49 PM on September 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


I was a lurker back then, and I remember also trying to follow the Mefi thread. But it updated so quickly and got so long it took forever to load. Then Netscape would crash and I'd have to remember the last thing I read when it loaded again.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:53 PM on September 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


What would 9/11 be like if youtube comments was around?
posted by biffa at 1:54 PM on September 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


Damn. Now I am unable to stop reading that original 9/11 thread. I may need a drink...soon.
posted by blurker at 1:55 PM on September 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


I would use the word "infamous" to describe the Sarah Palin nomination thread. I wouldn't use it (even ironically) to describe the 9/11 thread. That was my main source of information eleven years ago and, even with some of the incorrect details and the noise, I would liken it to a life preserver on that terrible day - at least for me.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:56 PM on September 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was here, on MetaFilter on 9/11. All day long and into the night. That was just one of many, many days I was glad to be a part of this community.
posted by ColdChef at 2:01 PM on September 11, 2012 [17 favorites]


Maybe I'm missing something but didn't the cell phone voice and data networks in lower Manhattan basically collapse for most of the day? I'm not sure people would have gotten much out, at least initially. The widespread camera phones would certainly have been used, but there were already tons of photos taken of the events as they happened.
posted by Wretch729 at 2:01 PM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Given that no sites were able to stay up long enough to report on what was happening, we were relying on hearsay from people in the office. Being your typical mix of people in an office, we learned that:

1. A plane flew into the World Trade Center
2. A helicopter flew into the other tower
3. No, it was a plane
4. A missile hit the Pentagon
5. Nostradamus predicted all of this
6. A plane flew into Camp David
7. etc.

If people on social media had similar access, I can't even begin to imagine how much the story would mutate before the end fo the day.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 2:01 PM on September 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Maybe I'm missing something but didn't the cell phone voice and data networks in lower Manhattan basically collapse for most of the day?

I worked at an ISP at the time and a guy in NYC (on 9/12, mind you) called to say his internet was down and wanted to know what the problem was. No one was really sure what to tell him.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 2:03 PM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Maybe I'm missing something but didn't the cell phone voice and data networks in lower Manhattan basically collapse for most of the day?

My cell phone wouldn't work all day in Wilmington, Delaware. So I'd imagine yes.
posted by amro at 2:07 PM on September 11, 2012


What would 9/11 be like if youtube comments was around

Top comment after tower a collapses: "JENGA!!!"
posted by Chekhovian at 2:08 PM on September 11, 2012 [9 favorites]


At the time, nobody was sure how many attacks there'd been, or if there were more coming. The Pentagon one was a huge surprise, then there was a heated debate about whether the crash in Pennsylvania was related or not. There was a lot of fear that things would just keep escalating and this was WWIII.

Many people in New York did manage to post something before the end of the day. I remember one man (not a Mefite) who everybody was wondering about at my old message board. The people who knew him were getting increasingly worried, then around 4:30PM (EST) he posted a message, describing how they had to evacuate his building, then walk through the streets covered in dust, then they got hung up at some kind of checkpoint and couldn't get out of Manhattan. But he so glad to be finally home now drinking a scotch. And it was amazing, feeling such relief for a man I'd never actually met in the flesh.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:09 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


The original thread here on MetaFilter said that a plane had flown into the Sears Tower in Chicago. (Am I remembering that correctly? Mods?)
posted by ColdChef at 2:11 PM on September 11, 2012


God knows if I could change one thing about September 11, 2001, it would be the relative dearth of social media.
posted by Iridic at 2:13 PM on September 11, 2012 [16 favorites]


I can't even begin to imagine how much the story would mutate before the end fo the day.

A Twitter mob would have literally invaded Iran at the behest of a C-list celebrity.
posted by entropicamericana at 2:23 PM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


amro: "Maybe I'm missing something but didn't the cell phone voice and data networks in lower Manhattan basically collapse for most of the day?"

Yes. Several days. And our land line phones only worked intermittently for most of the week in Queens. But only once the towers fell. There was a cell phone transmission tower serving the area from the roof of the North WTC tower, 1 World Trade. So when the building collapsed, it took out cell service.

It actually broadcast signals for most of the non-cable television channels in the city, including WCBS, WNBC, WWOR, WPIX, WNYW, WABC and WNET. When that tower fell, it cut off tv for a lot of people. We were able to pull in Channel 4 (WNBC), channel 13 (WNET) and not much else.
posted by zarq at 2:34 PM on September 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


At the time, nobody was sure how many attacks there'd been, or if there were more coming. The Pentagon one was a huge surprise, then there was a heated debate about whether the crash in Pennsylvania was related or not.

Indeed. I was working in Toronto at the time, but actually had a day off. I got out of the shower to the simultaneous sound of my landline and cell phone ringing and someone pounding on my door. Like many of us, I spent the day horror-struck in front of a television. My workplace had no TV or radio, so I was the one who let my office know. I will recall to the end of my days this exchange of dialogue with my co-worker Mark:

He: "Is it serious?"

Me: "Well, I think... Jesus, one of the towers is falling right now. It's serious."

Anyway, watching the coverage on CITY-TV was uneasy-making, if only because -- as others have remarked -- no one knew how widespread this was. There were mistaken reports of car bombs and similar airliner-based attacks in other cities. The office towers in downtown Toronto were emptied pre-emptively, and by pure mischance a steam pipe blew up in the underground parking beneath City Hall that afternoon, so I spent an alarmed few minutes watching what appeared to be smoking pouring out from beneath a major downtown building.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:34 PM on September 11, 2012


this infamous 9/11 Metafilter thread ...

The FPP/thread isn't infamous. It is distinguished in MetaFilter history.

The horrible tragedy of that day, though, is indeed infamous.
posted by ericb at 2:45 PM on September 11, 2012 [9 favorites]


I had a friend posting (email) updates using his blackberry from the stairs while evacuating.

I remember watching from the west coast, receiving very inconclusive reportage as to how many people were (or were not) trapped in the buildings as they went down, with the likes of CNN saying shit like, "There could be as many forty or fifty thousand people affected by this."

Eventually, over at Aint-it-Cool-News, I found a guy relating news of a friend who'd been on the 83rd floor of one of the buildings, yet made it safely to the ground. This was the first genuine hint I received that a lot of people had in fact made it out.

Mainstream news utterly dropped the ball for a few hours that morning. From my perspective at least, I'd say that social networking stepped up nicely.
posted by philip-random at 2:50 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


There was a personal site for some man who worked in one of the towers which permitted comments that I remember reading, back then. After the attack, the early comments were from people offering best wishes and hoping he got out in time, and asking him to post to confirm that he was safe. Those got more and more emphatic.

And as time went on, and he didn't post, it became clear he was dead and the comments changed to people talking about how they were going to miss him, and offering condolences to his family. It was heart-rending to read.

I no longer have the slightest idea where or what it was, let alone if it even still exists. But I still remember it strongly.

And that comment thread certainly counts as "social media", if anything does.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:58 PM on September 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


If people on social media had similar access, I can't even begin to imagine how much the story would mutate before the end fo the day.

I remember following the Mumbai attacks here and on Twitter. Broadly, the various stories being told all seem to agree with one another - as fast as misinformation can be spread, the correct or more-up-to-date version can go around as well.
posted by rtha at 2:59 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Would we be on acid, too? I hear that makes a difference.
posted by mochapickle at 3:02 PM on September 11, 2012


HuffPo asks, "What would 9/11 be like if social media was around?"

Well, I might have known earlier that my aunt wasn't dead.

Today we did a lesson about 9/11 in my sixth grade social studies class and it was fascinating because that's right around the time they were born (in fact, one of my students was born on the exact day; some kids' newspaper did an article about it last year and she brought it in to share). The garbled facts, misconceptions, and clear restatements of what they've been told are really interesting, ranging from a kid who said "a commercial airliner was hijacked" (I had to teach her what commercial, airliner, and hijacked all meant) to kids who thought two million people died to kids who only knew about the Pentagon (we're in DC) to kids who hadn't even heard of it. It was a peculiar day because they all had heard the phrase "9/11" but they didn't really know anything about it.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 3:25 PM on September 11, 2012 [29 favorites]


That MeFi 9/11 thread should be shared here.
posted by NoraCharles at 3:33 PM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


It was a peculiar day because they all had heard the phrase "9/11" but they didn't really know anything about it.

Wow. Wow.
posted by ColdChef at 3:34 PM on September 11, 2012 [8 favorites]


People also understimate how much Instant Messaging was being used to pass information back then - all of my relatives who couldn't get through to my cell or office (I was in Northern Virginia, beneath the flight path) could get to me on IM. We had an IM group open for hours.
posted by julen at 3:40 PM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


If Twitter was around, it would have been FailWhaling like crazy.

Let's all keep in mind there was no telephone service to most of New York for the entire day.

I remember following the Mumbai attacks here and on Twitter. Broadly, the various stories being told all seem to agree with one another - as fast as misinformation can be spread, the correct or more-up-to-date version can go around as well.

I was in the subway station underneath the WTC when the second plane hit.

I was unbelievably lucky and managed to get on what was probably the last train back home, before the MTA shut down service.

On the train, despite the extreme confusion that everyone had just experienced and the relative level of abstraction of what happened (not just "the WTC blew up", but "two planes hit the towers"), the gossip was surprisingly correct. There were one or two people who insisted that it had been bombs, or who were confused about the overall chain of events. But by and large, when I finally got home and turned on the news, it was pretty much what I'd heard on the train via mob-mentality hearsay.
posted by Sara C. at 3:41 PM on September 11, 2012


There was really no texting in the US in 2001? It had been huge in the UK since 98/99. Though during 7/7 the phone networks in London went down.
posted by mippy at 3:42 PM on September 11, 2012


CNN saying shit like, "There could be as many forty or fifty thousand people affected by this."

Really, though, that wasn't irresponsible reporting; something like 50k people did work in the towers, with many many thousands more passing through on a daily basis. It was actually surprising as the days passed and the number came down (from an estimated 10 or 12,000 projected gone, IIRC, after the first day or two), how relatively few people had died.

Not that anyone was really saying "it could have been worse" at the time, or that you even want to say that now, but... well, it could have been much worse. Even the way the towers imploded and fell straight down must have saved thousands of lives. I doubt you'd find a New Yorker who would have thought, prior to 9/11, that you could have both towers collapse on a weekday morning and not have a toll in the tens of thousands.

On preview--Mrs. Pterodactyl, I know what you mean. Our kids pass by the WTC site on a daily basis in carpool, and over the years we have continued to tell the story and correct misapprehensions as the little ones get older and begin to ask questions.
posted by torticat at 3:44 PM on September 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm going to freak you out now: there are serving troops in Afghanistan who have no first-hand memories of 9/11. They were in primary school.

Of course I don;t know whether US troops can enlist at 16....
posted by mippy at 3:45 PM on September 11, 2012


I think this made me realize something - that those of us who were linked via cyber news in one way or another (message boards, IM, etc.) were mostly professionals at work. The difference now with social media is that people have access to it all day, no matter if you were at work on a computer or not. Back then people would turn to TV and radio more for news.

Nowadays, people have access to the internet much more now via our phones and tablets and laptops compared to back then, and it's not just professionals. I don't know any 15 year old in 2001 who had a smart phone in school who would be accessing this info, but now he would.
posted by HeyAllie at 3:47 PM on September 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


Man, you wanna hear about mis-information? I was backpacking in Spain at the time, in a tiny tiny village down on the Mediterranean, and spent that day drinking whiskey on a patio with a middle aged British man. We'd been there for 2 or 3 hrs when conversation kind of lapsed, so he filled the silence with "So, big news from your side of the world today, terrorists bombed New York..."

My friend and I sat there silently with our mouths hanging open, so he elaborated: "Yeah yeah, entire city wiped out, they're saying 30 or 40 thousand dead, basically the start of World War 3" then poured 3 more shots. It took me over a week to get a proper grasp on what had really happened.
posted by mannequito at 3:48 PM on September 11, 2012 [14 favorites]


I worked at an ISP at the time and a guy in NYC (on 9/12, mind you) called to say his internet was down and wanted to know what the problem was. No one was really sure what to tell him.

This reminds me of how weird shit was here, for that first week or two.

On the one hand, most people were sane and didn't go in to work on 9/12 and had few if any expectations for Business As Usual getting shit done.

But then there were the psychos. You know how people stereotype New Yorkers as work-obsessed, tightly wound, and intense? A lot of the people here who are really like that just got worse. My boyfriend at the time was completely fixated on the fact that I'd been a temp, my job suddenly no longer existed, and I needed to be W-O-R-K-I-N-G. "Almost died yesterday" or no. "National tragedy" or no. He was honestly pissed off that I wasn't calling the temp agency bright and early the morning of the 12th begging for my next job.

I actually had to explain to him that I was in shock, that I could afford to take the day, and that when I initially checked in with the temp agency, they'd said to take care of myself and that I was at the top of their list for my next gig. Trusting that sometimes you need to relax and let life work just was not in his nature.
posted by Sara C. at 3:49 PM on September 11, 2012


Of course I don;t know whether US troops can enlist at 16....

They can't, but I had a nineteen year old intern this summer who was in elementary school at the time and has only the dimmest memories of it.
posted by Sara C. at 3:50 PM on September 11, 2012


There was really no texting in the US in 2001? It had been huge in the UK since 98/99.

Texting existed, but it wasn't popular here until 2002-ish.

The big national event that coincided with people finally getting the point about texting was Hurricane Katrina, when cell towers were down across the south, but texting worked. Suddenly a lot of older people who'd never bothered sending texts before learned how, and a lot of people added text plans.
posted by Sara C. at 3:52 PM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, if you were a teenager on PAYG then it was (probably still is) 10p a text around the time when mobiles hit a price cheap enough for a bunch of teenagers to get them for Christmas at the end of the 90s. It was cheaper than phoning your friends, and more private than phoning on the house phone, so it took off pretty quickly here.
posted by mippy at 3:55 PM on September 11, 2012


There was a post on Mefi about somebody (Maybe the Internet Archive?) releasing a huge dump of all the texts made in the New York area on 9/11. Search is coming up empty, but I'm sure it was here.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:00 PM on September 11, 2012


Kevin Street: You're probably thinking of the text pager logs released by Wikileaks.
posted by zsazsa at 4:03 PM on September 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


I heard about it from someone while playing Everquest, about fifteen minutes after the first plane hit. I didn't believe him, but turned on the tv. (Not exactly social media, but kind of related.)
posted by Glinn at 4:05 PM on September 11, 2012


I was in Iceland at the time, still fast asleep from the previous night's night shift, when a friend in Canada called to tell me that "America is being invaded". From there it was just incoherent sob-babble, so I went across the street to a local bar with a TV and saw what was happening.

While no, there was no Facebook or Twitter, that was good ol' Yahoo Chat. That was not only an invaluable source of information from people all over the world, but there was also a great deal of comforting, camaraderie, and a general sentiment that no matter what, people of all faiths and from all countries were going to unite for peace and keep cool, level heads.

I miss those three hours in the library computer room.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:07 PM on September 11, 2012


Yes, that's it! Thank you, zsazsa.

So they were pagers, not cell phone texts.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:07 PM on September 11, 2012


It was cheaper than phoning your friends, and more private than phoning on the house phone, so it took off pretty quickly here.

Yeah, it wasn't like that in the US. We had cheap voice service (or at least, many people had times when voice was cheap or free, depending on their plan) and there was also Push-to-Talk. In a lot of cases you couldn't SMS between providers. Text just wasn't a thing here like it was in other countries at that time.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:21 PM on September 11, 2012


Weirdly, this reminds me of my first encounter with real-time news breaking on the internet: I was in a computer lab at my college in November of 95, emailing on a VAX terminal, when someone a few machines down yelled like "Oh my god, everybody come here!" and showed everyone in the room an email she'd just gotten from some weird Otherkin-y-type mail list she was on, wherein a member in Israel had emailed the whole list and asked in otherkin-y-type language for everyone to pray for peace because Yitzhak Rabin had just been assassinated.

That was an eye-opener on at least 3 separate axes.
posted by COBRA! at 4:22 PM on September 11, 2012 [8 favorites]


People followed it via AOL groups they belonged to, as I did.
posted by jgirl at 4:23 PM on September 11, 2012


Texting -- we always called it SMS back then -- was available, but unusual. I used it, and I did get a couple of "I'm ok" texts.
posted by tangerine at 4:25 PM on September 11, 2012


I was woken up by a phone call from my mom, who shouted that "America is under attack!" My first response, of course was along the lines of "Ok Mom, right. Now what's really the problem?" Then I looked out my window and saw the smoke (I lived near the NJ Meadowlands, and had a clear view of part of the skyline and all of the smoke).

My first reaction was to hit my computer and load up my usual IRC channel, so that I could check in with everyone scattered across the continent. We spent the entire day mentally ticking boxes about who was accounted for - "Ok, Badger's fine. Has anyone heard from so-and-so? She's in Toronto but I know she sometimes visits NY." "Yeah, I got a call from her, she's fine." And so forth. We stayed online into the night, making sure we'd counted everyone, and sharing who knew what about what had happened where.

So yeah, my social network and our instinct to check in with each other was all that held me together that day. I don't know that I'd have wanted to see Facebook or Twitter if they had existed then - the flood of retweeting and re-posted cliche/misinformation both are prone to somehow seem like they would have been all...wrong.
posted by badgermushroomSNAKE at 4:41 PM on September 11, 2012


We had cell phones, but the phone lines were so jammed (I was in DC) that calls couldn't get out. I spent the morning minding kids with autism; finally got a call mid-morning from my step-dad saying my mom was safe, he had finally gotten through. She flew out of DC at a little before 9am on 9/11 from National Air Port (which is literally in downtown DC) and was grounded in Pennsylvania. I spent the next day driving up to pick her up.

I don't know if she could have texted me to say she was all right.
posted by Deoridhe at 5:01 PM on September 11, 2012


Also, the most immediate effect 9/11 had on my day-to-day life in the close aftermath was that my mother, who had been firmly in the "why would a college student need a cell phone?" camp previously, heard reports of people calling their loved ones from the stairs in the WTC and had a complete change of heart: clearly cell phones did have a purpose. To some extent, I suspect that day pushed cell phones further toward the mainstream than they otherwise would have gotten.
posted by badgermushroomSNAKE at 5:06 PM on September 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


I was listening to NPR and intermittently reloading the slashdot and the metafilter threads. The signal-to-noise ratio was about the same across the three media. That was just prior to the time I started reading more metafilter than slashdot.
posted by bukvich at 5:08 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wasn't lurking in 2001, and am reading that post for the first time. In tears. Guys? Thank you.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:33 PM on September 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


From the 2001 thread:

The mayor of Cleveland has announced that an airplane containing 200 passengers has been sequestered at the Cleveland Hopkins Airport. They believe there may be a bomb on the plane. Very early to tell exactly what is going on.
posted by turaho at 11:37 AM on September 11, 2001 [+] [!]


I worked for Salomon Smith Barney as a broker in the downtown Cleveland office. I was well into my "I hate this fucking job" phase at that point, and dawdling getting dressed. I watched the breaking coverage on the Today Show and immediately called my fellow lady-broker friend in NYC -- no picking up, went to vmail. Started freaking out. Called my office, assistant says we're open, get your ass down here, we're all watching it on So-and-So's TV.

So I went in. I'd already gotten shit from our branch manager for wearing a sleeveless shell with my elbow-to-armpit cast, I didn't need any more grief.

They ordered downtown Cleveland office building to evacuate. Manager waited til the stock exchange closed AND his overlords gave the ok. Office was closed for a week. I went home and watched news coverage all day.

Turned out my NYC friend had been out running. She missed the whole thing til she went back to her apartment to change for work.

Our mayor was on TV talking about the grounded plane.
Hours later, when asked about it, he outright denied it had ever happened.

There were fighter jets over the lake.

I wish I'd been on Metafilter with you all instead of home alone completely losing my shit.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 5:44 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


With regards to the actual HuffPo article, it seems he's making arguments:
Diff 1) People could have sent out info from within the towers, as it happened
Diff 2) People could better have gotten word out that they survived, without relying on land-line phones
...and that's about it. There's a bit of handwavy stuff about how "things would have been totally different, right?", but those are the only specific differences he provides.

The problem is:
Diff 1) Here, he isn't really talking about "the benefits of social media" but "the benefits of social media on a cell phone". When a plane hits your tower, you might, might tweet from your phone about a fire in a stairwell, or people falling from windows, or the like, but you're not going to run over to a computer and log onto Facebook to do it.
Diff 2) In addition to the point in Diff 1, that "letting people know faster" is more an issue of "getting out information using your cell-phone" and less an issue of "Twitter and Facebook", people did get the word out, without relying on phones, through the magic of the newfangled "electronically delivered mail". The big difference is that if there were Facebook or Twitter, people would have found out about people less close to them. Not just their parents or children or siblings or spouses, but their high school friends and former business colleagues and the like.

Sure, MetaFilter and other sites exist, and posted lots of stuff about the situation, but it's not what the author is referring to (in fact, I don't think I've heard anyone refer to MetaFilter or Slashdot or Usenet or the like as "social media"). What he's talking about is Friendster, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace (in its former state), etc. Except, what he's really talking about, and probably hasn't thought about himself, is Friendster, Facebook, Twitter, etc. on mobile phones.
posted by Bugbread at 5:44 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


There was really no texting in the US in 2001? It had been huge in the UK since 98/99.

As zsazsa's link suggests, in 2001 lots of Americans still used pagers.
posted by holgate at 5:46 PM on September 11, 2012


All I have to say is that after reading this book (which if you haven't you should next time a 9/11 anniversary rolls around) the only people I wish were better connected on 9/11 were the cops and the firefighters. Among many other images you won't be able to shake off after reading that book is the image of a bunch of emergency personnel resting in a hallway, oblivious to the fact that the other tower had just fallen, as civilians went past them down the stairs telling them they should probably get out of there.

Oh, and: coming from the Director of Trends and Social Media for The Huffington Post, that's a hell of a short, shallow, phoned-in piece with almost no serious thought to it at all. Bravo, Huffpo.
posted by mediareport at 5:53 PM on September 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


Nowadays, people have access to the internet much more now via our phones and tablets and laptops compared to back then, and it's not just professionals. I don't know any 15 year old in 2001 who had a smart phone in school who would be accessing this info, but now he would.

I remember the first word I heard of it- I was in the hallway of my high school, just getting back to my history class because I'd forgotten a book in my locker. Another student was wheeling a TV into a classroom and a teacher asked him why. "To watch the twin towers, they've been hit by A plane". I've often wondered how they found out about it, or how we were getting small details throughout the day. It wasn't yet 10am, so I have to assume they got to watch them fall live in that class. It didn't take long for the news to spread and by lunch time the school was abuzz with rumours and disbelief. Personally, I couldn't believe the airspace around the pentagon was so insecure, or how two more airplanes were able to get to the towers... I thought it must be untrue, an exaggeration.

Without social media, there is still social behaviour. It just moves a bit faster internationally. I guess the details might have been clearer, that's all.
posted by sunshinesky at 5:59 PM on September 11, 2012


sunshinesky: "I've often wondered how they found out about it, or how we were getting small details throughout the day."

I'm going to guess "TV in the teacher break room" or "teacher listening to the radio". For example, I remember finding out about the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986 from another student during the middle of the school day. All it takes is a single teacher, or nurse, or guidance counselor, or the like to be watching TV, or listening to the radio, and then word spreads like wildfire.
posted by Bugbread at 6:05 PM on September 11, 2012


I work on the 17th floor in Arlington, VA. On 9/11 I could see the Pentagon on fire from my office window. It's an enclave of high-rises close to D.C., so the buildings began emptying fairly quickly once that happened. Our staff & interns evacuated to my apartment, watching fuzzy non-cable TV as the towers fell. Trying to call my interns' parents to reassure them and not having any luck even with a landline was frustrating. I spent most of the day refreshing that thread. It felt like a lifeline for me despite not being able to comment yet, and it helped me sort out what my feelings were and to give me some distance so that I could actually focus on trying to get everyone home. It sucked having to be the person nominally "in charge" of everyone when all I wanted was to cry. It was hours before they opened the roads back up and the metro started running again. Going back to the office to lock up for a few days, seeing the smoke billowing still, was surreal.

It might not have been social media like we know it today (and I'm certainly a pro-Twitter person), but I kind of think it was better because we can all still go back and read the whole thing in context, misleading rumors and all. I read all of it last year, don't think I have the stomach to do it again this year.
posted by gemmy at 6:09 PM on September 11, 2012


Does aol instant messenger count as social media? Because that was how I got my news that day.
posted by empath at 6:16 PM on September 11, 2012


Wow those pages are pretty interesting to poke around in. There's a lot of business talk, unrelated news headlines, interspersed with statements of shock, annoyance (Saw one that said "it's always something..."), and a bunch of CALL ME ASAPS. Cool (and chilling) historical evidence.
posted by yellowbinder at 6:22 PM on September 11, 2012


It was a peculiar day because they all had heard the phrase "9/11" but they didn't really know anything about it.

That....pleases me, strangely. I actually would love it if this day sort of became just another thing that everyone observed or didn't in their own way, and the rest of the world left me to my own thoughts.

And I actually turned out to be the way that everyone in my family and a couple of my friends got the news, because I was at home on standby for my temp agency that day and heard the impact of both planes as they hit. The first one hit and I thought it was an accident, but then the second one hit and I realized "okay, something's going down that people will hear about" and I started the long round of calls to the parents, grandfather, aunts, uncles, brother, cousins, and friends to say "Hi - okay, you're definitely going to hear about this, so let me start by saying I am fine and I am safe. Okay? Okay, so now that you've heard that, here's what just happened at the World Trade Center...."

One of my aunts was out walking the dog and heard the news from someone at the dog run, and started freaking out worrying about me. She said she got home to find my message on the answering machine promising I was safe; my exact words were "I was safe here in my apartment sitting here in my ratty bathrobe and bunny slippers". She was so relieved that she decided she would buy me a new bathrobe in celebration.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:27 PM on September 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


I watched it on the TV, but the only way I could communicate with my friends and loved ones in NYC was through IRC and other instant messaging.
posted by corb at 6:30 PM on September 11, 2012


We were lurkers back then.
We had two girls who were toddlers and a new, four-day-old son; I was in the bathtub, sleepy, when the first plane hit and my wife started screaming up the stairs at me. We spent the day glued to the TV and the computer, and there couldn't have been a more immediate source of news and realtime, real-people info than that Meta thread at the time.
I remember thinking what the fuck kind of world is this now, for our kids? Especially this days-old baby (he just turned 11 on Friday!) I guess everybody thought that.
I can't say I have any desire to go back and re-visit that thread.
Scary times.
posted by chococat at 6:51 PM on September 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yes, I know this sounds stupid but: I first learned about the attacks on the World Trade Center on Slashdot. And that morning, I followed events as they emerged in real time, by ordinary folks like you and me, who were looking out of their windows and wondering WTF?

Social media is stupid in a lot of ways. But there are times, through weblogs and chat rooms, when you feel more connected to the world than ever.

When the Zombie Holocaust goes down, I suppose I'll first read about it on MeFi. Or maybe
AskMe: how do I go for the headshot, and how best to dispose of a body. (Double-post! Sorry!)
posted by SPrintF at 7:21 PM on September 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


That was some of my earliest MeFi exposure - a coworker was a user and Metafilter was one of the few sites that stayed up, so it got refreshed repeatedly as we were trying to track what was going on. Eventually the scale of it became apparent and we drifted into a conference room that had a TV and BBC News.
posted by Artw at 7:51 PM on September 11, 2012


Today is still a rough day for me. I was in the Village on my way to my very second day as a professor at NYU. I was on anxiety meds for two years afterwards because being on campus freaked me out so much. I remember when the blackout happened in 2003. I thought I was "over it" only to find out not so much. The panic was immediate (I was, of course, giving a final exam at nyu when the power failed.) On 9/11 I had no tv so all my news came from my computer. I spent a whole day glued to metafilter and my email. This site literally helped me keep it together because it made me feel less alone. While more social media probably would mean more misinformation, it also would have meant more virtual support while I was holed up in my apartment panic striken.
posted by miss-lapin at 7:58 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was a sophomore in college, my second year in NYC. I think it was the second or third week of class. I had a cell phone but no landline in the dorm (this was back when it was common to have a landline in your dorm, for internet access if nothing else) because Verizon 'didn't have any phone numbers available' when I had called them up to set up phone service. I didn't have cell phone service, and I just kept trying to call my parents collect from the payphone in the hallway, but I guess the phone lines were too busy for me to get through. I eventually got through to my mom that evening.

After experiencing all the major news of the last 6-8 years after the advent of relatively common high-speed internet, it is hard to remember how I experienced those first few days without it. Somehow my brain remembers reading news on the internet, though I know that didn't happen, and I think those memories are a combination of what I was actually doing (listening to NPR and staring at the ceiling) and reading stuff like the Metafilter 9/11 thread years after it happened.

Something I think about sometimes is how I'm glad I was a sophomore when it happened and not a freshman. I can't imagine coming to New York, maybe from a small town, trying to convince your parents that you would be fine in the big city, on your own for the first time, and then this happens within your first 2 weeks away from home. It wasn't easy for me (though I of course had it easier than many, many people) but I am glad that at that time, I knew my way around, I had some level of support system, I felt like I lived here, and that I knew I would get through it.
posted by matcha action at 8:29 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hadn't started my lurking here yet. I remember everything about the day very clearly. There was a typhoon, and it was one of the rare ones that actually was still strong enough by the time it reached Tokyo and Chiba that it was pretty nasty, rather than just an unusually windy rainstorm. My high school cancelled classes, though teachers had to report in. Suddenly, around noon, someone came into the international office (foreign teacher ghetto) and asked why we were still there, as the school had decided everyone needed to go home. So, with typhoon coming, I got to bike home. Later, I had a business English class in Tokyo, and with the typhoon gone, the weather was perfect, and the sunset going into Tokyo was all kinds of gold.

I got home, made dinner, and my girlfriend and I turned on the bilingual NHK news. I thought it was odd that NHK was showing a movie, since they didn't usually show movies. Other channels did that, and more than enough of them would broadcast straight to DVD movies that made me just sort of shrug, thinking 'wow, that movie looks awful.' I wasn't really paying attention, trying to think of a movie where a plane hits the towers. Then the announcer came on, and almost as soon as I came to grips with what they were saying, thinking, one plane, probably an accident, we saw the second plane, live, hitting the other building.

In even the best of circumstances, the translating ability of NHK bilingual announcers varies wildly, and that night, it was the one who is hands down the worst. Just painful to listen to. Hard to understand. And here is this massive event, unfolding in front of her, and she's just throwing out all kinds of things that maybe are true, or maybe she misheard. We ended up switching to the armed forces radio, since AFN had just started broadcasting CNN, sitting, watching the TV, listening to CNN. My mom called, and we sat and watched the towers fall, first one, then the other, over the phone, late into the night.


It was a horrible, horrible moment, and I will never forget it, but good lord, I wish we could move on, or at least acknoweldge that 9/11 was a defining moment in our lives, in history, where there were a number of options, a number of ways forward that could have changed the world for the better, and at nearly every. single. turn. the wrong path was taken, the option to make things worse, not better was chosen. The next day, there were the French newspapers proclaiming "Nous Sommes Americains" and a month later, a year later, a decade later, look at how horribly we've squandered the opportunity. That's what we should remember. Not that nearly 3,000 people died, but that we dishonored the dead by so totally fucking up the chance to do right by them.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:39 PM on September 11, 2012 [17 favorites]


mediareport: Oh, and: coming from the Director of Trends and Social Media for The Huffington Post, that's a hell of a short, shallow, phoned-in piece with almost no serious thought to it at all. Bravo, Huffpo.
On September 11, 2001, I had no idea if my parents were alive or dead. They didn't work in the towers but like so many other commuting Long Islanders, it was far from implausible that either one of them could have had business to do in one of those buildings. At 13, I barely knew what they did for a living, or where in relation to the rest of the city their offices were located.

What created the greatest sense of panic for me, sitting on the living room floor glued to the television, was the fact that I hadn't gotten a phone call. I had been told they were okay, but it wasn't until about 4 or 5 pm that I heard either of their voices.
The piece is filtered through the lens of a 24-year-old, who was once a scared 13-year-old who had no idea if his parents were alive. I'm guessing his parents weren't on AIM or ICQ with him, or that they checked on IRC to see how his day was going. Sure, he could have actually tried to research what sorts of communications systems were around then, instead of looking at the dates for the start of current social media sites. Someone should have done a better job editing the 9/11 linkbait piece, but you can cut the kid some slack.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:53 PM on September 11, 2012


The fact of the matter is 11 years after 9/11, there are still a thousands of questions about what actually happened. Technology at that time, and communications technology specifically, likely kept thousands more from having to be asked. Better technology, well... you get the idea.

I am not cutting him any slack. Awful, just awful writing.
posted by mlis at 9:00 PM on September 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ghidorah: a month later, a year later, a decade later, look at how horribly we've squandered the opportunity

From my perspective, across the country and with no one I knew in or around the towers, I think the country went/was directed into "dukes up" mode, bracing for another punch from any direction. You were With Us or Against Us, but you could not understand what we went through. Sure, there are numerous countries around the world that would scoff at that notion, but that seemed to be the mentality in the US, from my point of view. I agree, it's dumb and self-centered, and some of us still are (see the 2012 Olympics coverage by NBC, which cut out the tribute piece to the 7 July 2005 London bombings), and I only hope that over the years 9/11 can transform into something broader.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:05 PM on September 11, 2012


filthy light thief: "Someone should have done a better job editing the 9/11 linkbait piece, but you can cut the kid some slack."

...because? I'm not following what part of the situation is the part that makes it deserving of slack. I mean, if he were 13 now, I'd cut him slack, or if he were writing about what he thought at the time, then, yeah. But he's a 24 year old writing about what he thinks now.
posted by Bugbread at 9:21 PM on September 11, 2012


Yeah, I was looking at his perspective as a flashback to being young and scared, rather than as a thoughtful examination of total effect promised by the headline. I think maybe someone should have spent some time with him on his article, though.

I believe I've said here before that I found out because my mom called as I was getting dressed to go to work and told me, "DON'T TURN ON THE TV!!!"

So, I turned it on and it resolved just as the second plane hit.

She'd been calling because she had no idea what was going on, heard Washington and thought "State of...", and also thought my high-profile workplace might be considered a target (later in the day, my workplace made clear that they thought the same thing and there would be some changes on all campuses as a result). She didn't want me to go to work.

My boss was one of those like Sara C.'s boyfriend - she honestly didn't see why anyone who wasn't right there should have feelings about it, especially not strong, needing-to-process-at-home feelings. I took solace in being able to lurk here to see information and reactions coming in, maxing out Trillian, etc. I was working with a virtual team that covered the whole world, in addition to a similarly global network of internet friends, and it was such a relief each time one of the NYC people checked in or had word relayed. I felt the same elation when it was strangers on the various update-in-real-time sites I visited. I'm really not certain how much better or different it would have been for those of us in that situation - remote but caring - to have had FB, Twitter, and text ubiquity via cell phone, particularly since the people we'd most want to hear from were unable to reach out from the moment the tower went down.

I felt such a need to be connected to everyone while we all figured it out, it felt like a personal slap in the face when, as Ghidorah says, our leadership took everything in completely the wrong direction and encouraged the most asinine responses to the entire tragic event. Jon Stewart's monologue brought me back from the edge, briefly, but then we got the arguing over taking care of the responders, Patriot Act, TSA, falsified reasons to attack other countries, open squandering of international good will (FREEDOM FRIES, FFS!), and the rest of that mess.

It made me feel like we could have made a new golden age out of the loss of our countrypeople and naivety but tossed it all into an open latrine of unchecked fear, bias, and craven opportunity-seeking. Nevertheless, I always seek out and support those little moments of coming together that 9/11 brings, even though it's unlikely to spark into enough warmth and light to overcome the toll. Still worth it, especially if the ripples can make it out to those more directly affected.
posted by batmonkey at 9:38 PM on September 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm kind of relieved that today turned out to be sort of low-key, especially compared to last year. It's getting to a point where I'm not sure it's a good idea to keep picking at that scab.

It's good that the kids in school today think of it as ancient history.
posted by Bonzai at 9:44 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


The FPP/thread isn't infamous. It is distinguished in MetaFilter history.

Infamous is when you're more than famous...
posted by salvia at 9:47 PM on September 11, 2012


we could have made a new golden age

I never say this here, but I'm sad that I can only favorite this once. All of that good will, gone. A chance to work with other countries to actually seek out the root causes of terrorism and deal with them... all gone.

filthy light thief, you're most likely right. Culturally, that seems to be a pretty standard American response. I don't think, though, that 9/11 will be, in our lifetimes, anything but a nationalistic knee-jerk rallying cry. Bush and Co. used it too well, fanned the flames too high, in order to push through their agendas, which is where the squandering comes in.

Maybe, decades from now, 9/11 will be a good lesson for people on the dangers of panic and response from the gut, and why it is good to pause and consider before reacting.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:48 PM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Somehow my brain remembers reading news on the internet, though I know that didn't happen

Where in NYC did you go to college that didn't have any access to the internet in 2001?

We had a T1 connection at my high school in rural Louisiana by 1998.

I guess my point is, maybe you really did read news on the internet? It seems odd to me that you could know for certain that you definitely didn't read any news online in 2001, a time when most people had internet access and turned to the web for news updates on a regular basis.
posted by Sara C. at 10:00 PM on September 11, 2012


(just because he's a director at Huffington Post doesn't mean he's getting paid)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:05 PM on September 11, 2012


It was a peculiar day because they all had heard the phrase "9/11" but they didn't really know anything about it.

My sixth grade daughter has a pretty good understanding of 9/11. She said they watched a video about it in school today, and she was telling me about the phone calls from Flight 93 after the passengers had decided to fight back. As a father it's... challenging to hear your little girl talking about that sort of stuff.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:14 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Re cutting this guy some slack?

I don't really think it's super realistic to assume that, if there had been Facebook in 2001, your parents would have used it to tell you they were OK in a disaster. For one thing, I'll repeat this again, there was no telephone service in Manhattan for most of the day. As in, land lines. You could not make a phone call.

The likelihood that cell and data networks would have been fine, and social networking servers wouldn't implode, is silly. Half the time you can't send a text from an outdoor concert. Twitter fails when a particularly beloved celebrity dies.

It was also a really hectic and fucked up day. Entire office buildings were evacuated, even outside the financial district. A lot of people walked home from Lower Manhattan to the outer boroughs. Folks in New Jersey and Long Island spent the entire day trying to get home or find somewhere to crash in Manhattan. The idea that this kid's parents didn't contact him right away because there was no Facebook is fucking ridiculous. They were probably busy doing grownup stuff he wasn't aware of at the time. They probably wouldn't have been Instagramming photos or whatever, even if that had existed.

I understand that this comes from an irrational inner child sort of place. And I have my own irrational ideas about family and disaster scenarios and if only. But ugggghhhhh seriously was no thought put into this piece of writing?
posted by Sara C. at 10:15 PM on September 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


Remember how clear the skies were afterward? No jet noise. No contrails. And landing all those jets safely so fast. It was amazing. Everyone in North America experienced that effect that very day.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:23 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


matcha action: "Somehow my brain remembers reading news on the internet, though I know that didn't happen"

Sara C.: "Where in NYC did you go to college that didn't have any access to the internet in 2001?"

I think there has been some confusion. Matcha action mentions "I had a cell phone but no landline in the dorm (this was back when it was common to have a landline in your dorm, for internet access if nothing else)", so it would appear that matcha personally was without Internet access.

I'm guessing, matcha, that you just read the news in a friends' dorm room, or the library, or something like that, and have forgotten about that part, remembering only that you didn't have Internet access in your own room. Just a guess.
posted by Bugbread at 10:27 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's sort of what I was getting at. It seems like if matcha remembers reading the news online, but then "knows" it couldn't be true, it's possible that the flaw is in the second guessing. Because every university was wired to high heaven by the time 9/11 happened.
posted by Sara C. at 10:30 PM on September 11, 2012


cut the kid some slack.

Yeah, I was too harsh in attacking the 24-year-old-probably-underpaid-if-at-all guy who lived through 9/11; I hate when I get that way (it's much better to have something to be aggressively positive about, for sure) but let my cumulative daily internet scorn get the best of me. I wish him well, including a well-paying gig with an editor who truly cares.
posted by mediareport at 10:42 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is interesting to read the old thread. Certain users expressed a genocidal hatred for people who ultimately had nothing to do with the attack. Others correctly identified the probability of the security/freedoms clapdown. Others encouraged getting facts before assigning blame. Others told us to follow the money.

I wonder what happened to some of the unhinged people in that thread.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:56 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think there has been some confusion. Matcha action mentions "I had a cell phone but no landline in the dorm (this was back when it was common to have a landline in your dorm, for internet access if nothing else)", so it would appear that matcha personally was without Internet access.

Yes, this, sorry for the confusion. The university, of course, had internet access. The dorms did not unless you had a phone line. Mine had not been set up yet.

I'm guessing, matcha, that you just read the news in a friends' dorm room, or the library, or something like that, and have forgotten about that part, remembering only that you didn't have Internet access in your own room. Just a guess.

The school sent us all home after the towers fell (I was in class at the time) and remained closed (including the library) for the next 3 or 4 days. Since it was the beginning of the school year I hadn't really made contact yet with the friends I had made the previous year (who were all living off-campus). I didn't have any friends in the dorm. I really think I am just conflating two memories which happened at different times. I do have very clear memories of staring at the ceiling listening to NPR, and I think I wouldn't have spent so much time doing that if I had had internet access.
posted by matcha action at 4:18 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Given that no sites were able to stay up long enough to report on what was happening

Luckily that Usenet was much more robust and I followed 9/11 through a mix of tv and reading threads on rec.arts.sf.written and rec.arts.sf.fandom. Then, once the initial reports had come and things went slightly more stable, people started looking for friends, family and fellow fans in NYS and Washington and some started throwing up quick "check in" websites for people to quickly contact each other. Also did a lot of IRCing that day.

It was just all a bit slower than it would've been today, as it was all on dialup. I was staying at my parents back then, having felt good that morning because I'd just scored an interview for what would become my second ever real job. Channel surfing when I came across a picture of the WTC with the first plane having hit, started to watch, saw the second plane hit...

Then a few years later, with 7/7 we were all on blogs and following developments through that and the BBC and Guardian news sites.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:09 AM on September 12, 2012


It's good that the kids in school today think of it as ancient history.

I learned last night that yesterday the 9-10-11 year old classes one of my children is in (4-5-6 grades mixed) were tasked to write an "eyewitness history of 9/11" as their writing assignment.

Phones were down, cells were down, emergency communications were down. People who could find the 'net checked in and we phoned messages across the country from us but across the county for them.

Even the "real news" sites were full of crazy speculation and stories and rumours when we could get them to load. The estimate of 40k+ plus dead was thankfully off, but there were that many people who worked in those buildings (plus visitors). One story, later pulled, stated that the FBI had arrested two men in New Jersey who had filmed the event from NJ.

Business did start to get "back to normal" some what soonish, friends who worked IT on Wall St talked about having to truck in/roll in gas to power generators to get things running.
posted by tilde at 6:39 AM on September 12, 2012


Luckily that Usenet was much more robust and I followed 9/11 through a mix of tv and reading threads on rec.arts.sf.written and rec.arts.sf.fandom.

This. 11-Sep-2001 was the last great day on RASFF. It went to hell soon after when the blamestorming started.
posted by eriko at 6:56 AM on September 12, 2012


What's amazing about the Mefi thread is that, except for initial reports of various bombings around Washington, it was pretty damn accurate from the get-go. Information was largely sourced from broadcast and cable news. I think Twitter would have been much, much worse at getting it right. I mean, Morgan Freeman has died about fourteen times in the last month alone.
posted by moammargaret at 8:48 AM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Luckily that Usenet was much more robust and I followed 9/11 through a mix of tv and reading threads on rec.arts.sf.written and rec.arts.sf.fandom.

I followed largely through rec.arts.sf.written.robert-jordan. We had people both in NYC and at the Pentagon, and there was quite a panic for our fellows. Thankfully, we were (and many of us still are) a pretty tight knit group, and we were able to account for everyone through various offline contacts. That was a relief.

Throughout the day, everyone checked in with reports of weird shit nationwide. Here in Toledo, the malls were evacuated and closed, non-essential city workers were sent home, and suddenly, someone pulled extra cops out of their ass, and they were EVERYWHERE. Friends even further away reported similar. It was all very surreal.


11-Sep-2001 was the last great day on RASFF. It went to hell soon after when the blamestorming started.

Things declined at RASFWRJ pretty quickly, too. In the in-between, several regular posters have disavowed their contributions of the time, citing the fact that so much political arguing didn't do anything but hurt feelings and either damage or outright destroy long-standing friendships.
posted by MissySedai at 9:24 AM on September 12, 2012


Culturally, that seems to be a pretty standard American response. I don't think, though, that 9/11 will be, in our lifetimes, anything but a nationalistic knee-jerk rallying cry. Bush and Co. used it too well, fanned the flames too high, in order to push through their agendas, which is where the squandering comes in.

I remember going into a craft store in the days following 9/11, and hearing a cashier tell someone that they were out of little American flags. I was honestly confused: why would people be buying flags? I understand there were people who were seriously and personally impacted by 9/11, but I played and hummed Sage Francis' "Makeshift Patriot" a lot in the months following (Wikipedia | lyrics).
posted by filthy light thief at 10:44 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bugbread: "All it takes is a single teacher, or nurse, or guidance counselor, or the like to be watching TV, or listening to the radio, and then word spreads like wildfire."

My wife (then fiance) was working in a private high school on Long Island and due to an early doctor's appointment was very late for work. She heard what was happening on the car radio, and informed the main office secretaries, who conveyed the news quietly to the principal and teachers. The school closed early, and was shut down for a few days due to security concerns. There were also at least 2 or 3 students who lost a parent.

I walked into my office around 8:30, turned on the television and went to make some hot water. When I came back, I thought one of my coworkers had switched to one of the movie channels as a joke. Then I tried to change the channel, and found that I was watching a live feed. WNBC showed footage of people falling/jumping to their deaths. They also inadvertently put an eyewitness on the phone who saw people falling and panicked, but cut him off abruptly.

My brother in law worked just a few blocks away. He called me from his car -- he was leaving the city after witnessing the second plane hit and watching men in suits fall to their deaths. He'd worked at the WTC and seeing that would haunt him for years.

In retrospect I should have followed his lead and left the city, because all roads and paths into and out of the city were shut down not long thereafter. My wife called from school. Told her I was safe, and would be home when I could. An editor friend called, crying. Her train had passed through the Path Station at WTC, and a mass of people on the platform were pounding on the doors of the train, screaming to be let inside. She had no idea what was going on but knew that if the doors opened, they'd never be able to leave. Her train never stopped and the doors never opened. It just kept moving.

The buildings collapsed. Our cells went offline. The cable tv went out. The antenna could pull in a couple of channels. Our phones still worked, and clients and contacts and friends and family called from all over the country. 'Yes, we're okay. No, we don't know what's happening.' My fiance's mom asked if we knew if her wedding dress was safe. "David's Bridal wasn't storing it in WTC, mom." We assumed the worst and all I could think was that tens of thousands of people had just died en masse.... All those New Yorkers had gone to work and passed through the same building I'd walked through the day before (on my way to a friend's place downtown) and died horribly. And who knew what other attacks were going to happen? I learned much later that a casual acquaintance who had become a firefighter after high school died in the North Tower when it fell.

I stayed in the city. I thought perhaps I could go help, but was also worried that another attack would happen and I'd get caught in it. So I stayed in my office and the city until 5pm, at which point I walked from the upper west side to penn station and caught the first lirr train out after 6. The streets were empty. I literally walked diagonally across avenues. It was absolutely surreal. Like something out of an apocalypse movie. Some of the passengers were still covered in dust even all those hours later. A few of us gave them water bottles and tissues/napkins so they could wipe their faces. The ride was deathly silent. I remember wondering if the last thing I would see that evening was the roof caving in as the train car was crushed... as the Empire State Building collapsed all around us in the tunnel.

If you ride the trains regularly, you know your conductors/ticket takers. You see them every day. There were two, working as a team that evening. They were crying. Many of us hugged them and held their hands. And they held ours. I got to the train station but had no way of calling my wife. So I walked home. My neighbor, a retired nypd detective, was sitting on his stoop, smoking a cigarette and crying. He said they'd lost dozens of people. And it would take weeks to sift through the wreckage. Contingency plans included using Shea Stadium as a... mortuary, and he was going to head over there soon, to try and pitch in.

The smell. There was an intense smell of burning... something. Like someone had set fire to tires and metal and wire and insulation and piles of dust. It permeated everything for weeks. Even the rain didn't diminish the smell right away. And the area was filled with dust. I brushed off my car the next morning. We had to clean out our air conditioners on a daily basis.

My wife and I sat numbly in front of the tv for several days. Watched the same footage again and again. Trying to connect to friends and family. Watching families beg on television for their loved ones to contact them -- to let them know they survived. We gave blood. There were vigils and gatherings and spots throughout the city plastered with homemade signs and pictures of lost loved ones. So many funerals were broadcast for months, as they gave up hope. There were incidents. The anger and grief pouring off people was overwhelming.

It didn't take long for 9/11 to become a political football, and I've always resented the GOP for trying so damned hard to capitalize on it. We deserved better than the way we were treated: as a rallying cry for fearmongering and an excuse/justification to do whatever the fuck they wanted.
posted by zarq at 1:42 PM on September 12, 2012 [33 favorites]


I'm apparently the same age as the author of that piece. I was living near Norfolk, VA at the time. I was in 8th grade.

I didn't learn of the attacks until maybe 11am. I walked into my very small math class and my snarky math teacher said, "Today is going to be a day you remember for the rest of your lives."

We laughed, thinking she was going to teach us something new, but her face just grew even more somber as she explained to us what had happened. No math happened in that class that day, even though during history class in the period before, it went on like nothing had happened.

My mom called from the principal's office before that period was over. She had come to pick me up. They had been talking about putting the school on lockdown, since we were reasonably close to several military installations. She wanted to make sure our family was all safe at home.

I remember staring at CNN for the rest of the day. I had not yet gotten to the point where the internet was my main source of information. I sat, transfixed, in front of the TV. I didn't know what was going on, except that I saw destruction and heard panic in the voices of the news people, and in the voices of my parents. The whole world was changing before our eyes, and we all could feel it.

In the days after, my school put up a giant banner. "United we stand, divided we fall." I remember seeing flags everywhere. I remember my parents telling me that the End Times were coming, reading things about prophecy and looking at pictures of the devil in smoke. I remember hearing over and over that they were still clearing rubble from "Ground Zero", that there were still bodies. That some had been pulled from the fallen towers still alive, but that news still came with such an aura of hopelessness, as though it would have been better if they had died. I remember crying that first day. I remember not being myself for days afterwards.

I'm sorry for the word vomit. Reading this post today, it all came rushing back. And I'm sitting here in my military uniform, wondering. What would all of our lives be like if this had never happened? I venture to say that everyone in the US would be living a different life today.
posted by Night_owl at 9:06 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Night_owl your post made me think of a line from the Sweet Hereafter, a line I often think of in connection to this event, "I wonder if you realize something. I wonder if you understand that all of us...Dolores, me, the children who survived...the children who didn't...that we're all citizens of a different town now. A place with its own special rules and its own special laws. A town of people living in the sweet hereafter."
posted by miss-lapin at 9:44 PM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm in a whole different timezone (GMT+1), so the news came to me in the early afternoon. At the time I was working as a software developer on a secure system, which had no Internet access. I had my radio on when the report of an aircraft hitting the WTC first came in, and got up and checked CNN on the one Internet-connected computer out in the hallway. At the time I assumed it was an accident, like most other people. But then the second aircraft hit, and then the Pentagon got hit. I remember going between Slashdot and the news sites, the latter having periodic outages.

When the Pentagon was hit, I remember getting this peculiar icy feeling through my body, and I was thinking "no matter what caused this, today the world changed".
posted by Harald74 at 1:15 AM on September 13, 2012


In New Zealand, we woke to our radio alarm clock, September 12th our time, the usual beeps on the hour of Radio New Zealand News, and then the newsreader telling us what had happened. It was 7am our time, 3pm yours. I rushed down the stairs and turned on the TV, watched, cried. Went into work, bought a newspaper, we turned on the TV with bunny ear antennae and tried to watch. At lunchtime I bought a special edition lunchtime NZ Herald. We looked at the tallest building in Auckland city and were certain it was a target.

Back at home I read the Metafilter thread; I refreshed news sites at work and scarcely worked for weeks afterwards. I didn't know what was going to happen next. I did the same after the Boxing Day Tsunami and Bali and the London Bombings but I start to get numb now. Nothing could ever be so abruptly shocking.
posted by slightlybewildered at 2:26 AM on September 13, 2012


Perhaps not surprisingly, there are very few favorited comments in the 9/11 Metafilter thread. But these two got a ton:

This is going to be a big turning point in the history and character of this country, I think.
posted by Doug at 9:51 AM on September 11, 2001 [123 favorites +] [!]

my greatest fear is how our government is going to respond. more erosion of freedom in the name of security. mark my words.
posted by rebeccablood at 1:10 PM on September 11, 2001 [205 favorites +] [!]
posted by Kabanos at 7:46 AM on September 13, 2012


I think some of those were retroactively favorited, because they were so astonishingly prescient.
posted by sweetkid at 7:55 AM on September 13, 2012


Yeah, I don't think favorites actually existed in 2001. I read a lot of old threads, and I come across a lot of them where there are no favorites at all, until you get to something that people obviously rediscovered later on.

I actually get a perverse pleasure out of favoriting old good comments.
posted by Sara C. at 7:58 AM on September 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Not to impugn the faculties of those two commenters, but those predictions are something along the lines of "the sun is going to rise in the east tomorrow."
posted by entropicamericana at 8:00 AM on September 13, 2012


entropicamericana: Not to impugn the faculties of those two commenters, but those predictions are something along the lines of "the sun is going to rise in the east tomorrow."

It was not entirely clear that the sun would rise on September 12, 2001.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:27 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]



This is going to be a big turning point in the history and character of this country, I think.
posted by Doug at 9:51 AM on September 11, 2001 [123 favorites +] [!]

Not to impugn the faculties of those two commenters, but those predictions are something along the lines of "the sun is going to rise in the east tomorrow."



At 9:51 AM on September 11 I was in Boston frantically calling everyone I knew in New York and DC, which is where most of the people I knew lived. I wasn't thinking about history and character of country at all.
posted by sweetkid at 8:35 AM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


While the internet community I had then been part of for 10 years was discussing the attack live as it happened, I was not logged in and missed it. Instead, I was biking down the East side of Manhattan where things seemed normal enough with the exception of the sirens of some emergency vehicles racing downtown, but, this being Manhattan, I ignored them.

When I passed the corner of 14th Street an 1st Ave. a mini-crowd of 15 or so people were all staring at the sky. I followed their eyes southwest where I saw smoke. "What happened?" I asked. Calmly, almost bored, a guy told me that a small private plane had flown into the World Trade Center. He had just heard this on the radio and the rest of the crowd said nothing to contradict him but just kept staring.

I arrived at the gym, my pre-work destination, and got on the elliptical with other morning aerobics people and we watched the TV on the wall. That's when I found out that it hadn't been a small private plane after all. As the details began to accumulate, I and several others continued our aerobics. Yes, it looked more serious than it had first appeared, but nothing to interrupt our morning rituals. It was when the second plane hit, while we watched on TV, that I decided to cut my exercise short. I seemed to be the only one. The whir of the machines continued as I left to go in to work in Lower Manhattan on the west side.

As I biked southwest below Canal Street I passed a continuous crowd of people walking north. Their eyes were staring, both at me, and into space. They were mainly in suits but they were covered with fine gray dust. I thought nothing of this and continued into work, only to find I was the only one there. My employer's T1 line from the WTC was still working and I found the online continuing discussion of the ongoing events. I guess this is a big deal, I discovered then. I needed an online community to clue me in. On my own, it didn't occur to me.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:33 AM on September 13, 2012


It was when the second plane hit, while we watched on TV, that I decided to cut my exercise short. I seemed to be the only one. The whir of the machines continued as I left to go in to work in Lower Manhattan on the west side.

What? I can't believe people were just carrying on with their workout watching that. That's crazy to me. It was so so incredibly clear once the second plane hit that something horrible was happening. I wonder if they were still working out when the towers fell.

I still remember Peter Jennings stuttering in disbelief as the second tower fell.
posted by sweetkid at 11:21 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I heard the impact of each plane as it hit.

I don't think I'm ever going to forget what that sounded like.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:28 AM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


My Romanian roommate at the time, who didn't even LIKE me (like really didn't like me) begged me to take a cab when I had to go meet someone because she remembered conflict in Romania and thought the subways would be bombed. We were in Boston but we still didn't know yet how many planes were still in the air, there were rumors about the Sears tower being hit, etc.
posted by sweetkid at 12:12 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I might not be on MetaFilter if not for 9/11. Certainly I wouldn't have joined as early as I did.

I wasn't aware of MetaFilter on 9/11, but about 3 weeks afterwards I was reading an article somewhere about internet coverage of 9/11, both from major professional sites and community-type sites, and it mentioned that the MetaFilter thread had actually been a very good place to keep up with breaking information, both in terms of site availability (CNN.com was unreachable much of the day, until they put up a low-bandwidth version in the late afternoon) and in terms of sorting out information from misinformation.

I clicked the link in that article and read the 9/11 thread. Then I clicked around a bit and read some other threads. Then I registered my account and made a few comments. Been here ever since, more or less. I've taken MeFi breaks from time to time, but not for more than a few weeks.

P.S. Favorites were introduced in May 2006, so it's not surprising that threads/comments before that have few favorites.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:08 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I remember laughing the hardest, hurting laughter, until I started sobbing at the print edition of the onion two weeks later.

Take that twitter! PRINT MEDIA FTW!
posted by roboton666 at 6:58 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


An editor friend called, crying. Her train had passed through the Path Station at WTC, and a mass of people on the platform were pounding on the doors of the train, screaming to be let inside. She had no idea what was going on but knew that if the doors opened, they'd never be able to leave. Her train never stopped and the doors never opened. It just kept moving.

Wow.
posted by odinsdream at 8:58 AM on September 14, 2012


This may have been the train mentioned here, but to be clear, nobody died down there (this was all about an hour before the collapse):
One train, carrying nearly 1,000 people, pulled in from Newark several minutes after the first crash. But a train master, hearing of the tragedy taking place above, ordered the crew to put everyone waiting on the station platform on board with the
others - and to head back to Exchange Place in Jersey City. Passengers who had already disembarked from the train at the World Trade Center were evacuated by Port Authority police and other workers, according to the PA.

Another train bound from Hoboken, which also was carrying about 1,000 people, was ordered to keep its doors closed, and continue back to Jersey City. The crew of a third train was ordered to leave their passengers at Exchange Place and race to the WTC station to evacuate commuters and PA workers.

Coleman noted just after Sept. 11 that no one was trapped in the station,
which was damaged but not destroyed. -- NY Post


Prior to the collapse, the underground areas of the WTC were essentially operating normally and you could take an escalator and walk out to the street the same as any commuter would have (as I did when I worked downtown and lived in Jersey City). The people who died in the attacks were mainly people who could NOT get to street level easily.
posted by dhartung at 9:27 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seconding what the above folks have said.

I, too, was in the subway station under the WTC when the second plane hit and things were structurally OK if not exactly peaceful.

My concern would not be that people in the PATH station would have died, but that they would have been forced out onto the chaotic streets. Which is what would have happened to me if I hadn't gotten onto one of the last trains. I definitely wouldn't have died, and I probably would have been fine in the long run. But as someone who lived clear on the opposite end of Manhattan, it would have sucked A LOT and my day (and probably the PTSD that followed) would have been much worse.
posted by Sara C. at 11:07 AM on September 14, 2012


Being underground below a building as it is hit by a jet is definitely the most apocalyptic thing I've ever experienced, though.
posted by Sara C. at 11:09 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just found this remarkable quora from 2011 (part of it was later in Slate): 9/11: What did it feel like to be inside the World Trade Center at the time of the 9/11 attacks?
Probably not enough there for a post, though.
posted by dhartung at 3:35 PM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


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