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

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.

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