Wireless on 11 September 2001: Say Goodbye … Let’s Roll

Many academics responded to 9/11 by doing research, perhaps all that we knew how to do in such a situation. I was so struck by the many news reports regarding the use of wireless and phones generally, from the planes, and from the crash sites, that I tried to take a more systematic look at who used their phones from where and for what purpose. It resulted in a paper that focused on the power of the human voice, entitled ‘Say Goodbye . . . Let’s Roll: The Social Dynamics of Wireless Networks on September 11’. I did this with a student in my class at the Annenberg School, Frank Nainoa, who helped collect information about all the calls. From accounts since this research, if anything, we under-reported the number of calls made, making the themes of our paper even more apparent. It has been published in Prometheus, Vol. 20, No. 3, pp. 237-245, September 2002. It is the only paper that I have ever presented that was too difficult for some in the audience to emotionally handle. The abstract follows, but the full paper is accessible online if it is of interest. See: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1225822 A later version of the chapter was published in Michael Noll’s book on Crisis Communication. Dutton, W. H., and Nainoa, F. (2003), ‘The Social Dynamics of Wireless on September 11: Reconfiguring Access’, pp. 69-81 in Noll, A. M. (ed.), Crisis Communications: Lessons from September 11, New York, Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Wireless on 9/11

This article describes the use of wireless telecommunication media within the different locations directly affected by the hijackings on September 11. Comparisons across these different contexts provides an empirical anchor to more general themes concerning the social dynamics of wireless in the unfolding events of this day. An indication is given of how the important social role of wireless phones in this crisis could redefine public views on wireless media and thereby shape policy and regulation in the years ahead.

Comments are most welcome