what the web looked like on 9/11

Many TV and radio pundits have mentioned that this is the first 9/11 anniversary for President Obama and are scrutinizing his every statement, bowed head, and solemn look. But this 8th anniversary of 9/11 also marks the first anniversary of the event on Twitter. Or, more correctly, it marks the first time when Twitter has a substantial user base. As would be expected, people are writing where they were on 9/11. I woke up to these tweets from @timkarr:

Tim Karr's tweets about 911
The #on911 hashtag has quickly emerged as a preferred hashtag with over 500 tweets (as of this writing) since this one posted by @mixtapetina 7:32 AM Sep 10th:
Mixtapetina's tweet with the #on911 hastag

On 9/11/2001 I was in the office of the Computer Writing and Research Lab at the University of Texas at Austin, preparing for my Introduction to Web Development course. A student walked past the office and told us that a plane had hit World Trade Center. We immediately went online to see what was happening. CNN and the other news sites were down. I walked to the student center where I knew there was television. To make a long story short, I canceled class, and rushed home to be with my then-girlfriend, whose brother is in the NYPD and for whose safety we feared.

Soon after getting home, though, I started to think about the news sites being down. I began taking screen shots of the sites and continued to do so throughout the day. Here is a smattering of what I was able to archive:

cnn home page, no time give
cnn home page, no time give
abc news home page, 10:16am
abc news home page, 10:16am
cnn home page, 11:20am
cnn home page, 11:20am
msnbc home page, 11:20am
msnbc home page, 11:20am
cnn home page, 2:37pm
cnn home page, 2:37pm
cnn home page, 11:35pm
cnn home page, 11:35pm

The screen shots (as well as TV and radio coverage immediately after the attack) reveal much of the confusion and shock experienced by the media on September 11, 2001. This is most apparent in CNN’s 2:37 pm home page, which is, amazingly, a template for an inner page story. One can imagine the chaos in the web department for this page to have been mistakenly put up as the CNN home page.

Later that semester (or perhaps the next) I began working on an ambitious (and never-finished) project in a course with the late-John Slatin:

The project Web site is broken into three sections: radio, television, and web sites. Each section was structured by a time-line of the events (television has no times because I never started constructing that section):

timelines for the three sections of From Shock to Spectacle

I wrote in the opening paragraphs of that project:

One thing became clear in the moments and hours following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon: the newscasters and, by default, the news organizations themselves, were in a state of shock. Their shock was seen and heard in their television coverage; it was heard in their radio coverage; and it was seen in their web site designs. Instead of the confident, precise assurance and reassurance that comes from prepared scripts, newscasters watched with the same incredible disbelief as the viewers, showing in one of those rare moments that they are, after all, humans, and that the news is, after all, produced by people with emotions and families. . . .

In watching the news, listening to the radio, and looking on the Web, each one of us was attempting to learn more about what happened as a way to try to gain a greater understanding of what the people who died experienced. But that act of watching more TV, of listening to more radio, of searching more of the Web, takes us further and further from the event because each new image we see, each new eye-witness account we hear, or each new online memorial we look at is simply a remediation of the event. And in the act of watching and listening we become more conscious of two very important things: the medium itself and the effect it is having on ourselves. We are now not only further from the actual event, but have become part of the drama, of what Guy Debord calls the spectacle: the spectacle is “the very heart of society’s real unreality. In all its specific manifestations – news or propaganda, advertising or the actual consumption of entertainment – the spectacle epitomizes the prevailing model of social life” (13). For Debord, “All that once was directly lived has become mere representation” (12).

From Shock to Spectacle: Remediating the Terrorist Attack of September 11, 2001” is now again online, though only portions of the web site and radio sections have been completed. Much of the text is filler, but all the screen shots I took on 9/11 and the early hours of  9/12 are online, as are some of the transcripts and audio recordings.

I’ll be curious as to what you think about the site and the brief ideas discussed within it eight years into the events remediation—a remediation that now includes all the #on911 and Sept 11 memorial tweets.

This entry was posted in academia, viz rhet, war and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to what the web looked like on 9/11

  1. Kathy says:

    Thank you. I was in living in NYC & saw the towers fall. Reading through your post again resurrects the emotions, goose bumps & tears about that day and the days following that I spent at friends’ houses while we were in lock-down on the island of Manhattan.

  2. Pingback: In-class post: WordPress basics | Fair Witness

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box