Horror and Hope

  • by September 14, 2001
As I sit in my apartment continuing to stare at the TV screen in utter disbelief, I felt the need to write and talk about this moment in time that forever changed our lives. In a few moments of sheer terror, the global community lost its innocence and was forced to come to terms with a reality, which seemed more like a surreal nightmare or a scene from a Tom Clancy novel.

Years from now we'll ask the question, "where were you when it happened?" I was at my agency on Madison Avenue in Midtown. First there were 3 of us watching the TV, then 30, then 100 and as the numbers grew, so did the horror and the enormity of the devastation.

As I left the building to walk to my apartment on the Upper East Side, I glanced to my right and in the distance, all I could see was a giant plume of smoke which covered the downtown side of the Avenue. As I walked home, I couldn't help but feel I was part of a Hollywood movie: a hybrid of The Siege meets Deep Impact. Thousands of people all walking home; radios blaring in parked cars and on hot dog vendors' stands.



As I walked, I continued trying to call my wife on my cellphone, but to no avail. I swore that I would call my wireless provider and cancel my account. What's the point in having a cellphone when you can't use it in times of need? I recognized that this rage was most likely deferred anger and shock.

When I returned home, I embraced my wife and child and was thankful that we were all safe. At the same time, I conceded that there were tens of thousands who weren't as fortunate.

Although we think of Manhattan as a vast Metropolis, it is still a small island. Whilst we felt artificially safe in our apartment, less than 2 miles away hell had been unleashed. As the day unfolded, friends and relatives tried in vain to contact us, as we did them. Lines were down. We were stranded.

Towards the end of the day, I responded to the Mayor's plea to donate blood. Perhaps the one glimmer of hope on this dark day was the unbelievable response by New Yorkers. As I reached the blood bank, I was turned away as the bank just could not cope with the overwhelming numbers of donors who were lined up around the block.

That night, I watched Senator Fred Thompson speak about technology being a blessing and a curse. He alluded to how technology might have played a role in helping the cursed terrorists devise and execute their plan. I thought about the other ways in which technology, and specifically the Internet had affected our lives during this period.

One could sense the heavy traffic patrolling the Net as people frantically scoured the Web for information. Many felt the Internet had failed the ultimate test due to slowness and unavailability.

The average "reachability" of the Internet dropped just over 8 percent from 96 percent to 88 percent around 10a.m. EDT, about one hour after the attack began, according to Matrix.Net.

Major news sites, which normally take between 2.5 and 3.5 seconds to access a Web page, the access time was between 20 and 40 seconds. Worse still, for nearly three hours the Internet's premier news sites, including MSNBC, CNN and ABC, were off the air. They were unable even to provide headline news about what was going on. for example, saw record traffic, hitting 9 million page views an hour since the tragedy occurred, compared to ordinary volume of 11 million page views per day. Only after streamlining its site, temporarily removing video, ads and non-breaking news, were they able to resume some kind of service.

Was this a failure of the Net or perhaps the failure of individual news sites? Neither really. For who in the wildest dreams (or nightmares) could have anticipated or prepared for a scenario such as this?

In fact the opposite was probably true.

On September 11, 2001, a day that will live in infamy for an eternity, the Web was truly World Wide. First of all, e-mail and the Web proved to be our best means of communication. Instant Messenger was a particularly effective way to reach friends and loved ones. The Web countered our isolation and kept us a part of the outside world. Emails traversed all four corners of the globe in seconds.

Instant websites and "white pages" were set up as a means to help search for and identify missing persons. Newsgroups, listservs and newsletters became beacons of guidance in the confusion of the moment. Stranded people were offered accommodation; managing editors became guidance councilors; daily data snippets became sources of inspiration and motivation. set up a direct link to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund using their Honor System. At the time of writing this article, the total collected amounted to $3,113,152.59 from 90030 individual payments (when you read this, it will be much higher; hopefully you will see to that!) Even x10 suspended their usual messaging, replacing it with a note of sympathy.

Echoing Shimon Peres, "today, we are all Americans." This is a global catastrophe, suffered by a global community that will close ranks and unite. We will continue. We will be strong. We will rebuild. Just like the scene at the end of Independence Day, we will be undeterred in our resolve to quash those that would attempt to stand between us and freedom, independence and democracy.

G-d bless to all of you, your friends, family and loved ones. We will all pull through this together, with each other's help and support.

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