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Where were you when... - Many a mickle maks a muckle

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September 11th, 2002

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02:04 pm - Where were you when...
They say that people always remember where they were when they heard Kennedy was assassinated. The thought of there being an event so crucial to the world that everyone remembers where they were when it takes place is a powerful one. It's not on the same scale, but I remember being at a small party in the room next door at university when we all heard about the Conservatives' election collapse in '97.

I remember coming down to watch some late night TV when I found out that Princess Diana had been in a serious accident which would turn out to be fatal. (Indeed, I suspect that the technique of "Where were you when you found out..." is much less powerful than it used to be, because so many people find out major news events from instant newsflash TV coverage these days and will continue to do so in the future.) On a happier note, I remember watching England beat Germany 5-1 on TV in the qualifying round of the World Cup very clearly.

I was sat in this chair one year ago, to the minute, on the phone with a non-Journalist friend. It had been his birthday recently and he was telling me about a very entertaining day he had enjoyed (not actually his birthday, but fairly lavish corporate entertainment in regard to a deal he had signed). It was a wonderful, fun call. Then I started my TV application on Windows and saw the newsflash coverage. BBC's practice of putting text graphics on screen to convey the breaking news in an instant was a useful jolt. I turned the TV on between the time the second 'plane had hit and the time when the buildings collapsed.

We then continued to chat on the phone for the next hour or two, but the tone became far more sombre, with discussions of the other planes that had been reported as having been hijacked. Indeed, at the time I think there were rumours of something like five or eight other planes which had also been hijacked, but thankfully these proved to only be rumours. The jolt from a happy, optimistic call to a sombre, realistic one will live with me forever. I feel very fortunate that I had got to visit the World Trade Centre in the autumn of 2000; looking through the photos (which I can share, but they're nothing special) really brings it home.

I'm trying to think about forgiveness, but I'll never forget.
Current Mood: remembering
Current Music: BBC1 memorial service (now reciting the names of the lost)

(6 comments | Leave a comment)


Date:September 11th, 2002 01:07 pm (UTC)

I know where I was too

I was asleep. Terrorists work too early in the morning.
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Date:September 11th, 2002 02:11 pm (UTC)

I Was...

... just getting to the office in Chicago. The company president got on the PA and announced the President was speaking in the conference room, if we were interested. Not quite understanding, I half joked to Linda Wong, "The president of the company or the president of the United States." She responded that it was probably the United States; a plane had slammed into the World Trade Center.

We were all in shock watching the images. We tried to work; I listened to the radio but kept going to look at the TV every few minutes. I kept calling people I knew in New York but got nobody. My sister in Massachusetts got through to me somehow; I told her I was fine and to tell my mom (who lives near my sister). I sent out a pile of e-mails to New York people, and fortunately I got a quick response from someone I knew saying the people at St. Martin's Press (my old company) were fine. Finally, I remember the moment I knew the buildings had been destroyed (previously, conflicting reports had them collapsing, then partially collapsing, then not sure) by seeing them on a television replay. I went out to the other person in my work area with a stunned look on my face, and said, "They're both gone."

Other Where Were Yous...

- Nixon's resignation: Cape Cod, in a small cottage, listening on a cheap radio because there was no television
- Lennon's shooting: sitting in my dorm room at Cornell. We had just had an argument over the merits of the Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones a half hour before. I remember feeling ripped off: I had spent my childhood a McCartney fan, only to realize after reading Nicholas Schaffner's The Beatles Forever that John was the cool one.
- Death of Princess Di: watching The Practice on ABC at my brother-in-law's house with Karen and our (then-) sister-in-law. Bulletins broke in throughout.
Date:September 11th, 2002 02:45 pm (UTC)

Where I was then

Excitingly, I was working at Reuters this time last year so was very much in at the start: in fact, on the phone to a colleague in NY who'd rung up to tell us all about it. It took me quite a long time to catch on; for some minutes I just wondered what on Earth he was babbling about and wished he would leave me in peace to get on with the online gaming I was up to on work time.

[Just because I rant in my journal (http://www.deadjournal.com/~worrals) about the number of people who died in the Great War doesn't mean I don't care.]
Date:September 11th, 2002 03:56 pm (UTC)

Re: Where I was then

Alice was then kind enough to telephone me with the news, which sounded like an accident. I was at work, without radio or television, and spent the afternoon tracking alternatives to the overloaded BBC News website. Central London is of course under a permanent low-level terrorist threat, but with the media expressing only blank confusion, it was hard to judge the risk that day, as it was tonight when I went out for a drink with friends beneath One Canada Square (the tallest building in Britain).

Alice forgot to mention that she later had the macabre duty of searching her employers' website for images of the World Trade Center.

Chris: (Indeed, I suspect that the technique of "Where were you when you found out..." is much less powerful than it used to be, because so many people find out major news events from instant newsflash TV coverage these days and will continue to do so in the future.)

I'm not sure I follow this. Newsflashes imply a common time for finding out, but not a common situation.

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Date:September 11th, 2002 04:51 pm (UTC)

Re: Where I was then

Fair point. What I suppose I was really getting at was that the reaction "I had just turned on the TV intending to watch something different and found the show I was expecting had been replaced by rolling news coverage" is probably rather more common than it would have been before, but that doesn't necessarily kill the story as the circumstances leading up to the TV-watching decision can still be interesting.

"Flash crowds" is the name of the phenomenon of web sites getting overloaded out of existence - another term adapted from a sci-fi story. It doesn't seem to be as big a problem as you might guess it would be and there are fairly well-defined guidelines as to how high-volume sites can cope. For instance, the then-slow BBC News site needed a lot of prodding to provide the full graphical version while World Cup matches were in progress.

From 9/11/01, I can remember that Sky News was about the only news site that I could find which responded at a reasonable sort of speed. Famously, Slashdot coped with 4x its usual volume of hits with very little trouble and was an excellent source of information, informed or otherwise, at the time - so maybe it does have some purpose after all...

Many thanks to all who shared. :-) Really fascinating reading.
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Date:September 11th, 2002 09:24 pm (UTC)
I was on my way to a meeting at work when I heard about the first hit, but nothing they said by the time I went into the building made it sound like anything more than a small private aircraft. When the meeting ended at 9:15, we found out there was much more going on.

That has to be worst "where were you" story on Earth, but it's (sadly) true.

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