9/11 Interactive Timeline/Database Artist Statement

9/11. The mere mention of those two numbers together signifies a day and event that will forever live in infamy. It is a day that claimed many lives and started a war on terror that is still ongoing.  I believe that 9/11 is by far the most important day in the 21st century so far, due to how much it has effected the lives of countless people on a global scale. As it seems with every event as important as 9/11, the people who were old enough at the time of the attacks can remember exactly what they were doing when they learned of the attacks and can easily flashback to these memories. These memories are often called “flashbulb memories” and are known to be very vivid and sometimes emotionally arousing.

I wanted to capture the pictures and videos that would invoke these flashbulb memories and put them into a database-like format for my project. The database format caught my eye in class with the Network Effect because of how it related specifically to what I was trying to emphasize with my 9/11 project. The Network Effect used videos to highlight human interactions while also being a larger commentary on humanity and  how the internet has changed our lives. This simple website with short cut-ups from Youtube changed my whole perspective on the internet and showed me that allowing the reader to navigate through information on their own can be a powerful tool.

My goal for my project was to highlight the human element of 9/11 through the videos and pictures of people throughout the day, while also creating a reflective and interactive trip for people who can remember their 9/11 through flashbulb memories.  I looked to encourage that interpretation by including the pictures and biographies of all the passengers aboard the four planes, while also including audio recordings of the hijackers. These pictures and videos, especially the videos of the towers being struck or collapsing, easily trigger in many people the flood of emotions and memories from that day.

Displaying all the flashback inducing media of the different events of the day, required obtaining and presenting large amounts of information including long videos. Essentially meaning that the most important affordance of a database in relation to 9/11 is that the database can be infinite and contain all the information you need it to. The only drawback to a pure database is that the information is not presented in a procedural format that would work well for telling a time based narrative. That drawback was important for my project because the story of 9/11 is very commonly told based on a timeline. The realization that 9/11 almost has to be told procedurally led me to merge what I considered the positive aspects of a database and a timeline into my port project, creating (what I very cleverly named) an interactive timeline/database.

The merging of the two formats took place in Twine. The free, text-based, narrative development software contained everything I needed to merge the best parts of the timeline and database formats. Twine makes it very easy to navigate through different text boxes with simple links and also easily allowed me to add most of the media to the timeline. Sadly Twine was not infinite and the software would not let me expand the size of my timeline to include the entirety of the media that I wished to upload. However Twine did allow me to condense my work into a less lengthy experience because of it being finite and was in-depth enough to even include a lighthearted Easter egg for some relief from the solemnity of the piece if someone is able to find it. Another wonderful affordance of Twine is how easily the appearance of the text and screen can be altered. I have very little coding skill and Twine allowed me to create a very patriotic theme for my background and text while removing the menu bar from the game. I was even able to look up the exact colors of the American flag and to use those color codes through CSS to create my theme for the piece. The page backgrounds are all the same blue as the American flag’s blue. While the text is white with red links that turn gold when moused over.

Twine also made it very easy to create a page linking all the other pages together, which is where the actual timeline starts. There is a start page before entering the timeline but the action begins on the timeline page which acts as a sort of hub. The viewer can navigate through the different times and events at whatever pace or in whatever direction, however each slide has a next button that when pushed will move the viewer forward chronologically in the timeline. I tried to use a picture timeline of 9/11 in conjunction with my text and link based version but Twine unfortunately refused to allow pictures to be moved and resized within the timeline. Therefor the timeline is just patriotically covered text with each time listed out starting from the first event of the day at the top and then reducing down until the last event of 9/11. In between the times are two white lines at first, these lines represent the twin towers and as the buildings come down on the timeline, so do the two white lines as they crumble into dots.

Moving forward from the home timeline page is easily done by clicking on any of the listed times. The home timeline page also serves as a way to move around independently in the time boxes. Once the viewer has entered the timeline, he or she can access any time box immediately through the links, however to explore further in depth there are links within some time boxes that hold additional pages and information. The most important of these boxes were the boxes that displayed the passengers faces, information, and sometimes voice recordings. Seeing the faces and sounds of the people on the planes either before or after seeing the videos of the planes colliding with the buildings makes for a sobering and sublime experience for anyone, not just those who can experience flash bulb memories. I cannot remember 9/11 at all because I was 3 years old but even I would get emotional to the point where I had to take breaks while working on the project because of how these pictures and videos made me feel while watching them.

The emotion the videos and pictures create is the heart of my project. I intentionally kept my project aesthetically simple so as to maximize the effect of the words and media. There are not any long paragraphs or multiple videos and pictures on any of the slides. The focus is intended to be completely on what happened at each time rather than on the implications or reactions to what was ongoing, while also shedding a light on how real these people who were involved were. Hearing the voice of the hijacker and flight attendant made me think for the first time of the people who were involved in 9/11 as people. For some reason throughout the years of seeing the pictures and videos it wasn’t until I had began to make this project that I had really seen all of the media in a chronological format that can be navigated at your own pace. There are plenty of video timelines and timeline pictures but they are not the same as what I created. Realizing that the hijackers and passengers who were involved are no different than the people I see every day was very surreal to me and to the others who have came to that realization while viewing my work.

At the first glance my work is probably not the most aesthetically appealing piece as it is a very simplistic and has rather dull colors. I did not mean it to be entertaining or attractive looking. I envisioned my project being used as a sort of teaching tool possibly as something on a government website or as something that kids can access to learn more about 9/11. If I were able to redo this project I would probably use a different software as the backbone of the project because while twine was easily used it also limited me in my ability to change the look and size of my project. I could not create all the slides that I wanted to or make the home page the way I want it to look. However, I really like the fact that my project is not very large to store or host and can be easily shared and downloaded.

In conclusion, I hope some of you other than Dr. Sample will take the time to download my project and will explore through it (I recommend in google chrome because I know it works well in chrome).  Hopefully after reading what I had to say about it, because I think my project shares with people the feelings I have been talking about and puts on display the human aspect of 9/11 if they view it through an inquisitive lens. 9/11 is important to me and I hope by viewing my work that everyone will understand why.

P.S. – I want to thank Dr. Sample for his help in creating my project and in encouraging me to follow my ideas and to my classmates for all the help you guys have given me throughout the semester.


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