Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 and us

Today is the 10th aniversary of 9/11. That morning, I was supposed to be in Manhattan. At the time, I lived in Princeton, NJ and one of my clients requested a meeting at her office on 9/11, 2001. But a day before, she called to cancel, saying that she had a problem at home and that she wouldn't be able to make it to work that day. If she hadn't cancelled, at 9am I wouldn've been either exiting PATH train, underneath Tower 1, or would have been in my client's office, at the former Century 21 building, right across the street from the Twin Towers.

As it was, I went to my Smith Barney office instead and we all watched in horror on our TV screens as the Twin Towers came down. There was an empty space somewhere inside every time I had to go to New York. It used to be, that wherever you were in Manhattan, as well as parts of Brooklyn and NJ, you could see the towers. After 9/11, I found myself trying not to look in that direction. That space in Manhattan's skyline felt empty, orphaned somehow. It seemed like a vital part of the city had been amputated, and the remaining part of the limb hurt, hurt terribly.

But one surprising thing happened after 9/11. New York Metro area, always so in a rush, always running somewhere, had slowed down. People started talking to their neighbors, and, incredibly, saying "hi," on streets. It was as if people all of a sudden realized that they didn't live in a vacuum, that they had neighbors, that there was a community. I can honestly say that ever since, New York has become a much more neighborly, comfortable place to live in. My husband proudly says that it is the new Europe (you've got to cut him some slack - he's a New Yorker, after all.)

Yesterday, I received a very touching letter from the founder of For those who don't know, Meetup is a place where you can join an interest group online, but the group that would meet in your neighborhood.
I was so moved by this letter that I decided to post it on my blog. And here it is:

Fellow Meetuppers,

I don't write to our whole community often, but this week is
special because it's the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and many
people don't know that Meetup is a 9/11 baby.

Let me tell you the Meetup story. I was living a couple miles
from the Twin Towers, and I was the kind of person who thought
local community doesn't matter much if we've got the internet
and tv. The only time I thought about my neighbors was when I
hoped they wouldn't bother me.

When the towers fell, I found myself talking to more neighbors
in the days after 9/11 than ever before. People said hello to
neighbors (next-door and across the city) who they'd normally
ignore. People were looking after each other, helping each
other, and meeting up with each other. You know, being

A lot of people were thinking that maybe 9/11 could bring
people together in a lasting way. So the idea for Meetup was
born: Could we use the internet to get off the internet -- and
grow local communities?

We didn't know if it would work. Most people thought it was a
crazy idea -- especially because terrorism is designed to make
people distrust one another.

A small team came together, and we launched Meetup 9 months
after 9/11.

Today, almost 10 years and 10 million Meetuppers later, it's
working. Every day, thousands of Meetups happen. Moms Meetups,
Small Business Meetups, Fitness Meetups... a wild variety of
100,000 Meetup Groups with not much in common -- except one

Every Meetup starts with people simply saying hello to
neighbors. And what often happens next is still amazing to me.
They grow businesses and bands together, they teach and
motivate each other, they babysit each other's kids and find
other ways to work together. They have fun and find solace
together. They make friends and form powerful community. It's
powerful stuff.

It's a wonderful revolution in local community, and it's thanks
to everyone who shows up.

Meetups aren't about 9/11, but they may not be happening if it
weren't for 9/11.

9/11 didn't make us too scared to go outside or talk to
strangers. 9/11 didn't rip us apart. No, we're building new
community together!!!!

The towers fell, but we rise up. And we're just getting started
with these Meetups.

Scott Heiferman (on behalf of 80 people at Meetup HQ)
Co-Founder & CEO, Meetup
New York City
September 2011

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