I asked my Twitter followers this morning what it would have been like had Twitter been around during the Sept. 11 attacks. It seems crazy that only 11 years ago, we didn't even have smart phones integrated with cameras and 3G Internet. There was no Facebook or YouTube. The term "smartphone" didn't even exist until 1997, when it was introduced by Ericsson; Blackberries didn't come out until 1999. The first iPhone wasn't introduced until Jan. 9, 2007 -- and it didn't even hit the market until June 29 of that year. Even blogging was in its infancy: Blogger was introduced in August 1999, but Moveable Type didn't come out until Sept. 3, 2001 -- eight days before 9/11. Friendster, the precursor to Facebook, went live in 2002, and MySpace (remember that?) launched in August 2003. Windows had its PocketPCs, running a crude forerunner to the Windows Mobile platform, but few found them useful. People were still using Palm Pilots.
So what would 9/11 have been like with today's brave new world of mobile social media? The responses to my tweet were interesting, so I thought I'd share them here:
Jake Tapper: oh good Lord
Brendan Byrne: First person perspective horror.
Doctor Longscarf: Horrifying
James Piechura: Imagine instagram
Scott McKenzie: Would've increased feelings of panic
Tim Miller: Disagree with more panic. Would've had more info quicker which leads to less panic
Nabilah Irshad: 9/11 would've broken Twitter
Pfeifer: More workers wld have left both towers after 1st plane
Dave Levy: Data networks would have gone down faster than the cell nets did; would induce more anxiety.
Brad Cundiff: possible that some that went up instead of down in tower 2 could have been made aware of passable areas.
Luke Alnutt: Twitter would have also spread unimaginable panic, rumor, and misinformation IMO.
Some folks noted that we do have some suggestion of what Twitter would be like, assuming it stayed up at all: the records of pager text messages from that day that were later released by WikiLeaks. They tell a story of panic and confusion. Here's a sampling:
08:50:25 A plane crashed thru the twin towers. Real bad..BR
08:51:37 THE WORLD TRADE CENTER HAS JUST BLOWN UP, WE SEEN THE EXPLOSION OUTSIDE OUR WINDOWS. TERESA...
08:54:27 LARRY, CALL BRIAN. WANT TO KNOW IF OUR MEN ARE OKAY, SAW A PLANE HIT BLDG.
08:56:37 From: Gross, Kate (Exchange)- holy s---! a plane just hit the top of the world trade center!
09:00:39 HI IT'S NANCY CALL ME. I WANT TO KNOW IF YOU'RE OK BECAUSE OF THE PLANE THAT HIT THE TWI
09:01:20 ade center damaged; unconfirmed reports say a plane has crashed into tower. MARSH AND NYMEX IMPACTED
09:01:53 Plane crash into World Trade Center. All MTA PD midnight units being held over. MTAPD Comm Ctr (1/1)
09:03:46 PLEASE GIVE ARIEL A CALL RE: CASUALTIES AT THE WORLD TRADR CTR AIRPLANE CRASH.
09:04:37 PLEASE CALL YOUR FATHER, STAT, AT, PAGER #22
09:04:39 YOUR SISTER JOE SAW THE NEWS AND WANT TO KNOW IF YOU ARE OKAY. PLEASE CALL ME AT WORK AND LEAVE A MESSAGE IF I AM NOT AT MY DESK.
09:04:57 CAN YOU CALL MOM AT HOME.
09:05:33 PLANES JUST HIT THE WORLD TRADE CENTER WITHIN 15 MINS! IT'S HORRIBLE...
As for me, I found out about the attacks from a homeless man with a small radio -- I was in New Haven, Connecticut, on my way to drop two Japanese visitors off at the train station. I was imagining a small private plane, like a Piper Cub, and didn't realize the magnitude of what had happened until I showed up at my office, only to see the towers collapse. My major source of news was CNN, and I distinctly remember seeing Tom Clancy -- author of The Sum of All Fears, in which Arab terrorists detonate a nuclear bomb at Mile-High Stadium -- brought on to tell us what had happened and why. It was the sort of day that took a novelist to explain, I thought at the time, because he was one of the few who had actually imagined it.