In a crisis it is human nature to first want to touch each other--perhaps as an affirmation of life--and then to seek information, any information, so we can regains some sense of control over a world that has suddenly turned hostile and frightening.
This is particularly true when a national crisis finds you outside your own country. You are left feeling isolated, disoriented and desperate for news of home.
My past record on this score is already precarious. As long ago as the building of the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis (I was working for the Army's Stars and Stripes newspaper in Dormstadt, Germany), and more recently when Jimmy Carter tried, and failed, to extricate the Iranian hostages (I was leading a seminar in the south of France), I found myself far from home.
The analyst life is a peripatetic one and travel is assumed. This trip started innocently enough--three days in Scotland for a vendor briefing, the usual blend of information, marketing, networking and socializing. We were not counting on this trip being extended, or made unforgettable by the terrorist tragedies in New York and Washington, D.C.
In times past, we were limited in our ability to contact our families back home or to gain timely information by the available technologies. That meant telephone calls when we could get them through, and news gleamed from newspapers, radio, and television--almost all in foreign languages.
Not this time. The terrible news could find us quickly via news services to pagers. CNN has become a global interconnection, providing real-time news and instant analysis, with constant updates as more news came in.
For most people, news of those at home had the highest priority. Phone service becomes spotty in any crisis, as millions call seeking friends, family and colleagues. This time the problem was made worse since the target area included so much telephone switching equipment. For example, we were unable to reach the re-dialers that enable travelers to call home for the price of a local call plus a U.S. long distance call.
The Internet became the focus of our activity, providing both e-mail access as well as up-to-the-minute information. It was also, as time went on, the best place for information about airlines and airport openings as we attempted to rebook homeward flights.
Our host, Citrix, was able to establish a link to their own portal and through that link to gain their guests access to their own e-mail systems and to the Web.
We reverted to our usual on-the-road-without-our-computer behavior, created yet another Hot Mail account, and successfully communicated with office and family, arranging for everything from flight rebookings, to schedule changes, to news of family and friends--to extending the cat sitter.
Next time, we're not leaving home without our own computer.