Pain is flat: The Internet, social networks and 9/11

Pain is flat: The Internet, social networks and 9/11

Summary: The Internet in 2001 let us talk one on one with each other, in 2011 the Internet lets all of us talk and share our pain with the whole world.


When the Twin Towers came down on 9/11, we talked with each other, one-to-one, over the Internet. Today, thanks to the rise of social networks, we share the news of disasters around the world with everyone in our circles. Our pain is becoming flat.

What do I mean by that? When Thomas Friedman wrote The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century, he described how global telecommunications and the Internet flattened international competition and turned globalization from an economic buzz word to a reality. In the 21st century's flat world even the most local of businesses are connected with other businesses around the world and must co-operate and compete with them.

I see another side of that concept in the rise of social networks like Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. Just as we now share information and compete with each other in milliseconds over the Internet, we now share our pain and our happiness around the world in mere moments.

On September 11th, on the Internet we came together as individually. We spoke to the people who were closest and dearest to us. We also talked to those strangers, our neighbors. The people we'd nod at as we left for work in the morning.

Today, thanks to social networks, those neighbors are co-workers from half-way around the world. They're high-school friends we haven't seen in decades and who've moved thousands of miles away from where we grew up together. Our neighborhood has become the world.

Take, for example, the Arab Spring revolutions. I don't know anyone in Egypt, Libya, or Syria. But, I do know people who know people who live there. Thanks, in particular to Twitter, I've been hearing every day about the triumphs and tragedies of rebels fighting their way into Tripoli and the events in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

I'm not watching these events on CBS news. I'm not reading about them in The Washington Post, I'm hearing about them from people who are there as it's happening. These people on the spot aren't reporting a story. They're not painting the big picture. They're living momentous events, albeit often in very small ways, and together, all of us who follow them on the social networks. we're there with them.

Come the day another major disaster happens in our own country, we'll share it in the same way. Over the Internet and its social networks, we'll share our pain, our fears, our hopes, and our thanksgivings not just with out family and friends, but with everyone our lives touch around the world.

I can't help but think that this will be a good thing. That, by sharing all this with the greatest possible circle of friends, we will flatten our pain and share what joy we can find. Grief from events like 9/11 never goes away, but at least we don't have to shoulder it alone. To quote science-fiction writer Spider Robinson's Callahan's Law: "Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased--thus do we refute entropy." Thanks to the Internet of 2011, that sharing has become easier than ever.

Related Stories:

Coping with September 11 2001 on the Internet

9/11, social media and viral news

September 11: Ten years after

How 9/11 Changed My IT Consulting Career

The day the planes hit (9/11 Diary)

Topics: Collaboration, Browser, Networking, Social Enterprise

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  • RE: Pain is flat: The Internet, social networks and 9/11

    Not to be too "nit-picky", but on 9/11/2001 I was on
    dialup internet, running DOS no less, and I could share
    my grief with a large number of people, not just those
    closest to me. IRC, instant messaging, even a DOS port
    of the old Unix TALK program, all enabled us to share
    with the world what we were feeling. Didn't need
    MySpace, Facebook, Twitter or Google+...these I'm
    sure are OK, but they are basically just re-engineered
    ideas that have been available for years.

    Other than that, God bless those who lost loved ones
    on 9/11/01, and God bless those who sacrificed all in
    the effort to bring to justice those responsible.
    • RE: Pain is flat: The Internet, social networks and 9/11

      @wizard57m@... Similar story here, though I did have Windows at the time and was on AOL, where the chat rooms and forums were abuzz with people from all over. The Internet of the time already allowed for much more than one-on-one connections (though they were largely confined to text; images ate a lot of bandwidth, and I believe Skype and its ilk were still a few years away.)
  • RE: Pain is flat: The Internet, social networks and 9/11

    The flip side of this "instant sharing" is warrantless wiretaps, Stasi-style databases full of information about citizens that the citizens themselves do not know about, Google Street View databases full of personal Wi-Fi information, Facebook face recognition profiles, Apple iPhone databases with records of every location you've ever visited......and on and on and on. Beware of progress!
  • RE: Pain is flat: The Internet, social networks and 9/11

    This is great,<br><br><b>I just got a $829.99 iPad2 for only $103.37 and my mom got a $1499.99 HDTV for only $251.92, they are both coming with USPS tomorrow. I would be an idiot to ever pay full retail prices at places like Walmart or Bestbuy. I sold a 37" HDTV to my boss for $600 that I only paid $78.24 for. I use</b>
  • RE: Pain is flat: The Internet, social networks and 9/11

    But, clearly, not flat enough.
  • you're at least 23 years behind the curve

    If anything, the net has become more balkanized. Back in the 1980s usenet was much more open.