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How Social Media Would Have Changed New York on 9/11

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On September 11, 2001, I had no idea if my parents were alive or dead. They didn't work in the towers but like so many other commuting Long Islanders, it was far from implausible that either one of them could have had business to do in one of those buildings. At 13, I barely knew what they did for a living, or where in relation to the rest of the city their offices were located.

What created the greatest sense of panic for me, sitting on the living room floor glued to the television, was the fact that I hadn't gotten a phone call. I had been told they were okay, but it wasn't until about 4 or 5 pm that I heard either of their voices.

And I wasn't alone. That day cellphones were virtually useless, phone lines were more than tied up, and in terms of communication, that was pretty much it. The internet existed, but it was still a shade of its current self when it comes to connecting people.

It's gotten a lot better.

Search YouTube for 9/11 videos. You'll find plenty. It's chock full of them. Every angle you can imagine. Newscasts. Camcorders. Police footage. Far more than just that 9/11 "truther" fodder.

As Vanity Fair's David Friend pointed out last year in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, YouTube didn't exist in 2001.

Nor did Google News. In fact, the search giant has even credited 9/11 for compelling them to surface more timely results in search.

But what could have had the biggest impact on that day, as Friend addressed, might have been social media.

Social media would undoubtedly have painted a clearer picture of what happened inside the towers in 2001. Many argue it's an image we don't want to imagine. Vivid, real cries for help and gruesome details of what happens to people in an unimaginably awful situation such as this.

Yet gruesome as resulting imagery could have been, the benefits of having social media on that day may have been profound. What would have come out of the tragedy could have provided more substantial evidence for engineers investigating the collapse. Detailed accounts could have given disaster officials untold insight that could be used to better improve fire safety codes in tall buildings.

It would have given many the ability to say goodbye one last time, giving some families closure if their loved ones were never found. For others a chance to say they had made it out.

For the rest of New York, for people like my parents, it would have provided a means to quickly and easily tell the world they were out of harm's way. One person can only remember to call so many people. A Facebook update or a tweet could have said, "I'm fine, worry about everyone else who needs help."

In the days following the tragedy, the benefits of social media would have been undeniable. Just look at the relief efforts that arose on Facebook and Twitter following the earthquake in Japan in 2011.

The fact of the matter is 11 years after 9/11, there are still a thousands of questions about what actually happened. Technology at that time, and communications technology specifically, likely kept thousands more from having to be asked. Better technology, well... you get the idea.

One last parting question: 89 years from now, will someone be live-tweeting 9/11 just like the sinking of the Titanic?

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