An insane day

I got in to work, and my boss passed me in the hallway and said something about terrorist activity and a plane hitting the World Trade Center. I thought he was talking about a little Cessna or something, so I got in and sat and started on my coffee, glanced over my e-mail, and then hit the BBC News web site to see what was going on. I soon had the live BBC News video stream going, and sat watching it in disbelief. I cried a little. I wanted to hug someone, but the only person around was our Latvian admin assistant Evija, and I decided that would probably be a bad idea.

I sat on three separate chat networks (AOL IM, DALnet IRC and our internal one), passing information back and forth and putting together a summary as things happened. Working together with people on IRC, we collected information from several channels of news media, filtered out the contradictory stuff, and noted what was confirmed and by whom. Since a lot of people internally seemed unable to get to news sites, I also posted screenshots from the video. It reminded me a little of Tienanmen Square and the shelling of the Russian Parliament—in both of those cases, I got the news from the Internet.

Around 11, my boss said that unless there was a compelling reason to be in the office, senior management was advising us to go home. The Hancock and Prudential buildings had been evacuated. What with two of the planes being Boston ones, I think it was probably justified paranoia. So I left the office and walked back towards Kendall. I had a bad feeling about the T initially, and instead went to the MIT lunch trucks and had something to eat. After that, the red line seemed pretty empty, so I chanced it and got home around 12:30.

Sara was watching the news on NECN, which was OK, but really full of wild speculation. We switched to BBC America, which was giving over its entire lunchtime news slot to the… crisis? disaster? outrage? I’m having trouble finding the right word here. We made various attempts to call friends and acquaintances in Manhattan, and I sat online with the ThinkPad. Eventually people showed up online and we were able to confirm that they were OK; the phone system stayed useless all afternoon. I couldn’t reach my mother either—I knew she’d be worrying, as I’ve made business trips to IBM Madison Avenue in the past. I sent SMS messages, but they didn’t arrive. Finally e-mail made it.

Right now I’m mostly feeling apprehensive. A lot of people online seemed furiously angry, patriotic, and ready to string up anyone the government identified as responsible. Maybe I’m too Zen; I just didn’t get angry. My feeling is that anger is inappropriate and unhelpful. But right now, it seems like I’m in a tiny minority, and that probably means a big crackdown on immigrants and troublemakers—and of course, I’m both. Sure, I have white skin, but bad laws are color-blind. The trial by media has already started—I’ve seen pundits reminding everyone how previous terrorist actions have been carried out by resident aliens. Politicians are talking about “eradicating”, and language like that from people in power always makes me nervous.

So I’ve been offline, trying to get away from it all. The next few days are going to be bad—endless speculation will be the order of the day. Was it Osama bin Laden? Was it a CIA conspiracy to introduce martial law, confiscate firearms, and place the USA under the control of FEMA operatives in black UN helicopters? Who should the drunken gangs be beating up?