It’s A Moment Many Felt In Their Cells

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By Richard Mullins/Media General News Service
Published: January 21, 2009

As the minutes ticked by during the inauguration of Barack Obama, millions of Americans took the occasion to do at least one thing: reach for cell phones and tap out text messages.

Maybe send a cell phone photo, too, or start streaming live video if they could.

Together, hundreds of millions of messages about the day surged through services such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and Flickr — providing a vibrant digital picture of the day and a strain on communications.

At times, metro Washington became a digital black hole as the cellular networks broke down.

The time-honored tradition of the handwritten letter may retain its nostalgia and personal touch, but on Tuesday, cellular phone providers such as Sprint saw their flow of data traffic from cell phones double, then double again.

That means people were doing a lot more with their phones than talking. By 11 a.m., Verizon Wireless was handling seven times the normal call traffic, Verizon officials said.

The flow — the poignant and the prosaic — surged into the 140-character space of the text message, the de facto language of a generation.

One from “mattortega” in Washington read, “Still tearing up from this text from my Republican dad: ‘Take solace in his words. You sacrifice for the common good.’ I’m never deleting it.”

“Jessiejessie” wrote, “Michelle Obama is looking stunning. No more frumpiness in the White House.”

In the coming days, all that multimedia will blossom again.

Media companies will use a new photography software called Photosynth to assemble hundreds of thousands of photos taken on the Mall at noon, forming a three-dimensional virtual environment so viewers can float around the scene to view it from the perspective of any photographer there at the moment. Cellular phone photos included.

RICHARD MULLINS is a staff writer for The Tampa Tribune

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