The recent commemoration events, documentaries, newscasts and services focusing on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attack remind us of how much the world has changed since that terrible day—not just in terms of redefining an enemy or reinforcing our security but also in the ways we communicate.

In 2001, we had no Twitter, no Facebook and no smartphones as we have come to know them. GPS was brand new, and geo-location was where you parked your low-end car. Fire, police, first responders, helicopter crews and other rescue units were unable to talk with each other across departmental lines.
Imagine, however, if this unspeakable event had happened in 2011 instead of 2001.

Would responders have been able to track buried survivors through the GPS on their smartphones? Could the injured have managed to send an email or text from their cells?

Instead of the hundreds of images taped on walls at Ground Zero, might the location of those impacted by the attack have been more promptly and efficiently determined by organizing efforts through social media? Think of the role that such sites played in organizing citizens in the Middle East during the Arab Spring. If FourSquare had been around in those days, could rescuers have discovered who had checked in at and around the World Trade Center to verify their locations?

Television shone at its finest during the days and weeks that ensued from the 9/11 tragedy, but imagine if broadcast media had been augmented by photos, groups and reports on social sites. How much more finely could we have tuned rescue efforts or expanded aid to those who needed it most?

Our communications technology today, it seems, not only brings us together more effectively than ever before but helps keep us safer. It’s much easier today for a city, a region or a nation to unify in a common purpose and take action—we’ve seen this happen time and again around the world via mobile devices and social networks.

While we remember 9/11/01, therefore, we should be thankful for 9/11/11 and the years that will follow as communications allow us to reach out, not just to a family member or friend, but to large groups of those with whom we share beliefs, values and trust. We’ve never been more secure, and we’ve never had more opportunity to marshal our efforts to help others.

— Steve Friedman is the director of marketing communications at Airfoil Public Relations, a high tech PR agency with offices in Detroit and Silicon Valley.