This week, in commemoration of the 7th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the History Channel is releasing an unusual documentary, entitled "102 Minutes That Changed America". If you are a DIRECTV subscriber and have access to their On Demand service, you can actually download the program to your DVRs now. If not, you'll want to set your TiVo's or tune in at Thursday, September 11, 9PM EST or Friday September 12, at 1am EST. This is a show you absolutely do not want to miss.
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There have been numerous documentaries and specials about 9/11, but none of them have been as gripping and frightening as this one. Why? Because this show was produced using video sources from real people that were on the scene at the time, shooting as it was happening, and with material that hasn't been seen before, in all its graphic and horrifying detail.
Over the span of 102 minutes, the video clips are shown in sequential fashion as the events actually happened. It is absolutely disturbing and horrifying, in an almost surreal -- or "super real" fashion. If we didn't all know 9/11 actually occurred, it almost seems like a faux-reality first-person documentary along the lines of "Cloverfield". The editing and first rate source material results in an incredibly disturbing but beautifully preserved historical record, something that everyone should be forced to see in the coming decades, especially for those that will only know of the attacks like people of my generation know of the Hindenburg, Pearl Harbor or the liberation of Auschwitz through old movies, if only to understand the full significance of the events and feel the sadness and the true horror of what happened.
That a program like "102 Minutes" could be produced in this day in age is a testament to the fact that more and more amateurs are able to be used as ad-hoc reporters due to the prevalence of VGA-quality or better video-record mode on cheap digital cameras and increasingly better resolution on cell phone cameras, not to mention that camcorders themselves are now smaller and smaller than ever.
What's amazing is that all this source material for this special used 2001-era technology. God forbid, but if an event like this was to happen again, the amount of documentation we would have now from people in the field would be incredible. This with the combination of 3G wireless HSDPA and WiMax technology that is now emerging will allow a news network to potentially have THOUSANDS of cameras and data sources, in a technique I would like to call "Mesh Reporting".
Much like how "Mesh Networking" allows large groups of people to share data over short range networks, "Mesh Reporting" (or perhaps "Mash Reporting" or "Mashcasting" in homage to web mashup technology) would allow a swarm of people on the scene of a breaking news event to simultaneously shoot video and photographs and submit that content over public wireless networks to aggreggation sites where traditional media could assemble the end product for broadcast. Geotagging from built-in GPS receivers in cell phones and automatic time stamping combined with cloud APIs for web-services enabled GIS systems (aka Google Maps/Google Earth) would easily allow a media service to create programming such as "102 Minutes" on the fly.
For "102 Minutes" The History Channel had to go through painstaking editing processes and manual interviews to assemble all the material needed and sort it correctly to the correct sequential time scale and geographical perspective and to transfer it to digital editing systems. By comparison, with the all-digital formats of today's camcorders, cell phones and digital cameras combined with Web 2.0 technology and ubiquitous wireless networks, "Mesh Reporting" would be child's play.
Will amateurs through "Mesh Reporting" or "Mashcasting" change the way major news events are covered and history is documented? Talk Back and let me know.