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September 11th, 2001, through the eyes of IRC channels
From computer programmers to Pokemon fans, this is how it went down online.
Taking your shoes off at the airport. A lone bag sitting on a park bench. A plane flying a little too low. The faint thought in the back of your mind, now and always, that it could all descend into chaos once again.
This is the post-9/11 world, the result of a tectonic sociological shift that shook the world in the months and years after terrorists cut a gash in New York City’s skyline on Sept. 11, 2001, taking nearly 3,000 lives in the process.
Fourteen years ago today, the America we knew crumbled to dust along with the World Trade Center. We’ve adapted to the symptoms our society has suffered since those hijackings—removing our shoes at the airport now seems like something that we’ve just always done. It’s virtually impossible to remember what was like before that bright, crystal clear Tuesday morning in September.
Part of the reason remembering is so hard is that we lacked the constant record-keeping we have today: social media. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube—even MySpace—none of it existed in 2001. There was, however, one particularly popular way to connect online: IRC.
Internet Relay Chat, launched in 1988, beat even AOL Instant Messenger by nine whole years, and it has—for purposes like this, at least—a big leg up on most online chatting services released since: It’s possible to find logs of the conversations that occurred on specific dates.
While most of the logs don’t go back as far as 2001 (it seems most archives stop at 2004), we were able to find the logs of four very distinct channels—like #lisp and #pokebattle—to look back at how ordinary people responded to the events of Sept. 11 in real-time. And the reactions are likely not what you’d think.
For starters, a log of the channel #lisp provides a good example of where reactions to the tragedy started and the direction they took. This channel brought people of all types together to discuss one thing in common: their interest in a programming language. (View the complete log here.)
Computer programmers may have entirely forgotten which coding language they were discussing, but some Pokemon fans were slightly miffed that things weren’t continuing on as usual on theirs (full version here):
This channel provides an example of tragedy striking while you’re very stoned (full version here):
For something completely different, we have somebody being, just… decent. The original host of this channel is unknown, as some people at Google took it upon themselves to log a lot of IRC hosting services. This is the thread’s first post, located on alt.security.terrorism (but you can find the rest here):
In the exact opposite direction, we have the infamous Something Awful’s reaction to the tragic September day. Apparently an IRC channel existed at one point, but it’s been lost forever. In addition, the site displayed a message board, in full Awful mode, on the website—which got so bad that it was taken down from public viewing. It was later added again, however; and while we’ll just leave it here. Instead of posting it, we’ll just provide reactions to the original forum from when the original reopened.
When people start posting about being “teary eyed” on a Something Awful thread, well… we’re not sure if anything sums up the emotional roller coaster of that day more accurately. The new thread, which allowed people to comment on the old one, no longer has working links (we have no idea who salvaged the thing for the link we provided).
The original poster, reintroducing the forum, clarifies that the thread’s insensitive material is not something he’s taking pride in—it’s just there, for posterity. He writes:
“I figured now would be the perfect time to repost these in public, now that emotions have cooled down and cooler heads are (hopefully) prevailing,” OP wrote. “I’m not going to take credit for this; I am simply the historian. But these are one and a half hours of the most compelling reading in the history of these forums – live and free exchange from a variety of people, the very essence of the Internet.”
Illustration by Jason Reed
Joey Keeton is an entertainment writer who reviewed streaming movies, comedies, and TV series for the Daily Dot. He's also written about podcasts, bizarre web culture, and politics.