Memories of my dissertation

by Eszter Hargittai on September 11, 2004

In the Fall of 2001 as I was coding and analyzing data for my dissertation on how people find content online, I realized that some Web sites had changed a few design elements after the events of 9/11. I put up a little Web page documenting some of these changes because I thought they were interesting and worth archiving. I wish I would have had time to find more.

There were some more direct links between 9/11 and my dissertation. One was logistical while the other brought it all up close and personal. I think about these issues sometimes, especially the latter, and thought today would be an appropriate day to share them.

I did the recruitment of participants for my project by sending letters and brochures to randomly selected residential addresses in Mercer County, New Jersey. It turned out that this was precisely the area where post offices were shut down due to anthrax concerns so letters that I thought had been sent out to residents were not leaving the post office and letters that may have gone out before the sending office closed down were not arriving at the other end. This led me to delay the study even further – having put it on hold right after 9/11 – in order to be able to pursue the original course of recruitment. I think a mention of anthrax thus made it into my dissertation in a footnote.

The other link is certainly more touching. Respondents came to my university’s campus to participate in the study. First, I sat with them and orally administered a questionnaire about their general Web use patterns and some additional questions. One issue of particular interest to me is the role of social support networks in people’s Internet use. I had a question on the survey that asked about whether there were people the respondent knew to whom to turn with questions about Web use. One day a participant gave a curious response to this question: he said that there used to be someone. Since you know the context of my blog post, you may see where this is headed. But in the context of the interview this was a curious response and so I asked again to confirm that I had heard the response correctly. I looked up from the questionnaire and asked: “You used to have someone you could ask but that is no longer the case?” He looked at me and said: “It was my son. He used to work in the Twin Towers.”



LiL 09.11.04 at 4:35 pm

Thank you for posting this.


Katherine 09.11.04 at 10:10 pm

Interesting Times
The stewardesses scream. The co-pilot opens the cockpit to see what’s wrong. The jet makes a sudden turn and plows into the North Tower. The other plane is going so fast it almost disintegrates before it hits. The evacuation order comes over the loudspeaker. The stairwells fill too quickly. The people on the upper floors call their wives.

The ash rains over the coffee and donut trucks on Wall Street. The refugees stream over the Brooklyn Bridge. The emergency rooms are prepared, the young residents’ faces set. The ambulances do not arrive. The blood donations replenish supplies at midwestern hospitals. The posters–it feels wrong to avoid them, but they are too hard to look at.

The Hart Senate Office building is evacuated, then the National Enquirer office, then Rockefeller Plaza. The plane crash in Rockaway turns out to be a mechanical failure. The mail is irradiated and opened with rubber gloves. The doctors reassure their patients. The doctors write Cipro prescriptions for their families.

The flags are everywhere on your street. The seventh inning stretch now features a bald eagle named Challenger. The mayor has become an honest-to-God national hero, the same ornery man hated by half the city a few months ago. The crowds outside the embassy in Tehran are all Americans. The crowds outside the Atlanta state house are all New Yorkers.

The normal rhythm of days returns slowly. The New York Times editorial page criticizes Giuliani. The late night talk show host cracks a joke and smiles nervously. The Red Sox fans, after much soul searching, decide the Yankees still do suck. The southern politicians remember the northeastern cities are dens of iniquity. The homeland security budget is adjusted accordingly.

The newspapers mourn the loss of national unity, but honestly it’s a relief. The sense of living in history fades. The law school applications and wedding plans take precedence. The subway riders feel safe enough to get bored again, stare blankly again at the podiatrists’ ads–which are now apparently required to salute New Yorkers’ strength and courage. The hollow in the skyline is harder to find every time you drive over the bridge.

(I wrote this a few months back….originally continued up through the Iraq invasion towards the present, but the last two stanzas are overly partisan and bitter and generally lousy and I can’t seem to fix them. Which may be an appropriate metaphor or allegory or what have you for the place the country’s in right now, but it seemed better to just delete them).

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