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Watching from afar

8 July 2005

I didn't go in to London from my home in Cambridge yesterday. I didn't arrive at Kings Cross station and get on the Piccadilly Line down to Holborn and the BBC, or go round the Circle Line to Farringdon and walk through Clerkenwell Green to the openDemocracy office.  And so when my dad called just after nine am to ask if I was ok I was able to reassure him before asking what had prompted his call.

And then I turned to the web. I didn't want television or radio, didn't want to be consumed by the images and the sounds and the constant repetition of the few known facts coupled with speculation and uncertainty.  Perhaps it was about reasserting a sense of control in the world, about being able to make my own choices instead of relying on the editorial judgement of others.

I spent the day refreshing the BBC news website, following links from Technorati to the blogs and photo feeds of those who were there and were touched by this atrocity. And I reached out to my friends and colleagues and the many people I value who live and work in London. So far all are safe, all are well - but the names of those who died have yet to be announced and I fear still for those I know and care for.

Thanks to the network – websites, emails, chat, mobile phones, instant messenger – I was able to reach out to my friends and colleagues, able to reassure myself, and able to feel confident that if something had happened to someone close to me then I would have heard.

Of course this also means, I am sure, that those who lost loved ones, friends or colleagues found out more quickly than they would have done if this atrocity had happened five years ago. This will do nothing to diminish their pain.

I think that I would rather have known at once instead of having to wait hours or even days to hear, but I can’t be certain. Once information is moving faster then it brings both good and bad news with equal speed.

It is a remarkable aspect of our networked society that we can reach out to those we know so easily and so effectively.  Once this privilege would have been reserved for the powerful, the wealthy and the famous: now it is available to all of us.

But while the network can help, it does not take away the pain. I was closely involved in openDemocracy's work for the Madrid Summit on March 11. On that day Istood in silence at Atocha station and remembered those who died. It pains me beyond words to realise that next year I will be standing in Tavistock Square, or at Kings Cross, or at Liverpool Street.

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