Internet Proved Its Value Following World Trade Center Attack

Most information travels across networks without human intervention. In fact, computers talk to computers more often than people talk to people over these networks.

And that might be the reason why many people view networks and the Internet as a technical or business tool more than a communications tool for people.

The term “network” itself invokes images of computers, cables and software. And we reinforce these images by talking and writing about business transactions, supply chains and the standards that enable networks to work.

Networks in general, the Internet specifically, proved their usefulness in the wake of the World Trade Center tragedy.

First, it demonstrated resiliency and reliability–a testament to the U.S. Department of Defense, which created the Internet nearly 30 years ago to assure the flow of information when parts of the network might not be operational. In other words, if one part goes down, it does not all go down.

Furthermore, the Internet was able to handle a peak load quite well, although it slowed down quite a bit on the afternoon of Sept. 11. But it was available.

Michael Dertouzos has passed away recently. He was the director of the computer lab at MIT and he spoke at the ACORD Conference a few years ago. He frequently remarked about the disconnect between people and technology and devoted his work to bridging that gap.

Technology is still very complex and not sufficiently transparent to serve us well. His vision of technology was that it should be fully integrated into our lives in meaningful ways.

My Sept. 11 story is nothing extraordinary–more of an inconvenience than anything else in the wake of this tragedy, but it demonstrates the usefulness of the Internet for connecting people.

I was in Europe, where making a telephone call to the United States was impossible that day and a good part of the next. All circuits were busy.

However, I was able to make a local telephone call into a local Internet Service Provider in France and was able to reach people in the United States by e-mail. Getting information about our families, friends and associates was our first priority. Later, we focused on getting home.

On that score, calling an airline was impossible as well at times, but again the Internet was a source of information. The Internet proved to be an effective way for many firms to broadcast information to millions of people very quickly. It would have been impractical to do the same with employees talking on the telephone to customers.

And while television broadcasts kept us informed about major events, details needed to come from other sources. Newspapers arrived late and did not always have the latest information or details. We used Instant Messaging to carry on Internet discussions from overseas when the overseas switching networks for voice were busy and unavailable.

Connecting people is the real magic of the Internet and we are only beginning to fully appreciate and exploit this new channel of communication.

Most people look at the Internet as e-mail replacing snail-mail, online shopping taking the place of catalogs, or Web sites replacing directories. They look at it for buying stock, getting news or being entertained. And these very useful functions tend to overshadow the fact that it connects people.

Perhaps many will begin to look at the Internet in a different way. It not only connected us to the people in our lives, it supported emergency response teams and businesses.

Yes, it’s not perfect and, like any technology, it can also be used for both good and evil. It can also be the target of violence itself. But the Internet is, after all, about people and about a new global conversation.

An interesting Web site that explores this human side of the net is Cluetrain (http://cluetrain.com) and it summarizes a book published in 2000, entitled: “The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual.” The theme is that the Internet gives everyone a voice.

We live in a world of corporate communications and scripted presentations. Annual reports and corporate brochures are fine-tuned, filtered and packaged. The words you read or hear are carefully selected. Employees issue corporate policy statements to customers.

Whatever happened to people just honestly talking to other people?

The bottom line is that the Internet does just that in a refreshing way. And perhaps it will allow more rational voices to prevail in the long run because freedom of information is fundamental to freedom itself and everything that flows from it.

Michael Dertouzos did not relate to the term “cyberspace” because it connoted a sense of being separate or removed from where people live and work. He said that rather than being “out there,” the “Internet will come into our lives in many ways.”

Well it has, it is and it will continue to be. And, indeed, life will not be the same.

Gregory A. Maciag is president and chief executive officer of ACORD, the non-profit industry association based in Pearl River, N.Y., with offices in Belgium and the United Kingdom. ACORD develops and maintains standards for the insurance and related financial services industries and promotes effective use of technology to facilitate E-commerce and reduce costs worldwide.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, November 5, 2001. Copyright 2001 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.


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