Posted on September 8, 2011 by

AOL Instant Messenger on 9/11.

Note: I commented on a post my friend Varun wrote about how quickly the news of Osama’s death spread via social media. I’ve added to my original comments in the post below.

A decade has passed since 9/11 and since then, our security and privacy has forever been altered.  As expected, our security measures are far more stringent (see: airports) and the government redrew personal privacy boundaries in an attempt to keep us safe.  But over the same time period, we, on our own accord, lowered our guard on personal privacy.  Why?  Because Facebook (and now social media) presented us with a unique value proposition: exchange your information for access to others’ information, and personalized and relevant content.   The latter – a result of Twitter, push notifications, and being “mobile” – has led to revolutions in the Middle East and real-time breaking news (see: Osama’s death).   But this didn’t start after 9/11.  In fact, it was happening during 9/11.  We already had in place the foundation that drives today’s network effect.

I was attending Georgetown in DC during 9/11 and was oversleeping when, my mom, a morning news fan, called from Michigan to tell me to turn on the TV. She actually called my land line before trying my cell.  In the aftermath of the Pentagon attack, cell phone lines in DC were flooded and we were no longer accessible to concerned friends and family.  So we turned to AOL Instant Messenger.  Long before G-Chat, Facebook Chat, & Tweeting, my entire universe was on AOL. On 9/11, I was able to connect with family and friends on my Buddy List and let them know we were safe. Patriotic Away Messages that week resembled my patriotic Facebook & Twitter Newsfeeds after Americans learned that the architect of 9/11 had been killed.

AOL Instant Messenger was one of the earliest tools that facilitated real-time communication.  In participating, we were making ourselves more accessible and thereby, less private.  This value exchange relaxed the flood gates for next decade’s social expansion. I have not IMed anyone on AOL in over 6 years, and I wonder what application will consume our attention 5 years from now. But, the takeaway remains the same. We are willing to give up personal privacy for access to transparent and better information and connections.  This transparency is pervasive and provides us with a huge benefit: it allows us the freedom and ability to be more aware and shed our dated assumptions and misinformation, especially as we reflect on that tragic day in 2011.

-rd423 (my very dated AOL Screename)

related: Bostinnovation‘s post on 9/11 In a Social Media World