Digital Ether

by Brian Katz on April 16, 2013 · 2 comments

This afternoon was a tough afternoon. Watching the scenes from Boston brought back memories for me of being at the World Trade Center on September 11th as the planes hit. It’s not exactly a pleasant memory for me nor is it something I openly share even when people know I was there. I was very lucky that day when many people were not. Those thoughts flooded my brain as I watched on television and twitter the news out of a city that I lived in for four years and still think of as a home away from home. It was tough for me to even think of writing tonight, and then I thought of the one thing that helped me that day.

Boston marathon 1st respondersI spend my time on this blog writing about mobile and how it fits into the enterprise and with people. I was struck as I watched the news at how far we have come in 12 years. Twitter didn’t exist back then. News came only in newspaper, telecast or radio. The rest was unsubstantiated rumors. Today, those rumors come much faster as well as do fact and correction. You can actually listen to the broadcasts of the emergency services with an app. It was amazing to hear from people I was truly worried about in seconds and minutes versus hours.

You see, 12 years ago, everyone didn’t have a cell phone. They were popular but not like today when 50% of people in America have a smartphone and the rest have feature phones capable of text messages and calling. I remember walking up from the Trade Center as it was burning, streaming up towards Houston Street where we had another office at the time. I had my cell phone out but it was completely useless. Every circuit was tied up and there was almost zero chance you could make a call and if it did go through it would drop anyway.

I had another device on me at the time. I was carrying a Blackberry 957, we were using it for secure email where I worked and I was partially responsible for them. We had already rolled out hundreds of the 957 as well as the previous model, “the brick” we called it. The only thing on my mind at that time was to let my wife know that I was okay, my younger daughter was only 6 months old, my older one three and all my wife knew was that I worked right next to the World Trade Center in a building we referred to as the South Tower. All the news she saw referred to the South Tower and she had no idea if that was my building. Email was pretty much toast for us as our email servers and network were suffering from the load but I had one saving grace. I had convinced my brother, a lawyer, to get a Blackberry several months before hand and I had his pin number. He became my lifeline as I was walking. I sent him a pin message, using what we now call Blackberry Messenger and could only hope he got it. At the same time I started messaging my colleagues, we had each other’s pins, even though we really hadn’t planned on coordinating a disaster this way. It allowed us to make sure we were all safe and set up a place to meet and be safe together.

It took awhile for my brother to actually see my message; he had chosen to work from home that day and didn’t glance at his Blackberry right away. It was a long, but not lonely walk, as you reached out to the others around you. Around the time my brother got my message and reached out to my wife at home, I managed to finally get a small slice of bandwidth, enough to tell my wife I was okay, not sure what to do next, but was okay. The only thing better was when I walked into the house over 12 hours later after a long strange trip home.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

James Furbush April 16, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Someone’s cutting onions around me. My dad flew out of Logan that morning and it was agonizing not knowing what planes were hijacked or if he was even okay until 8 hours later or so. So many stories from that day of friends working in that area relying on the kindness of strangers who did get bandwidth to pass along a message to their parents. So very different than yesterday using Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, SMS and phone calls to make sure family and friends were okay.

Great observation and point.

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Dominic Wellington April 17, 2013 at 4:24 am

Thanks for sharing.

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