Practical Technology

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Coping with September 11 2001 on the Internet


On Sept. 11, the first thing I did after staring at a jetliner taking out the second tower of the World Trade Center on CNN was pray. The second thing I did was to try to reach my friends and family who live in lower Manhattan: Me and about a million other people.

The phone system could no more handle the load than I could run to New York City from my home in the Blue Ridge mountains. So what did I do? I turned to the Internet, of course. And that’s when I heard on CNN that the Pentagon, near Washington, D.C., had just been hit-the area in which I had lived for the last 15 years.

You want to hear a voice first; I tried to call into D.C., though I knew it was futile. Hope over knowledge and knowledge won-the lines were already jammed up. Once more, I kicked on my DirecPC satellite uplink to the Internet and I was on the Internet in a minute.

Five minutes later, I was sending e-mails off my address list as fast as I could type, and the AP news service wire was scrolling in one window while The Washington Post was getting updates every 15 minutes in another.

Information was coming in fast but not fast enough, and then it hit me: instant messaging. A minute later I had my Linux Java-based AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) client up. The first person I managed to reach was my long time friend Mary Jo Foley. Inside of five minutes I knew that most of my friends and family were OK. By day’s end, I knew all of them, including the one who lived six blocks from the World Trade Center, were safe and sound. If it weren’t for the Internet, I still wouldn’t have known more than 24 hours later.

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