Daniel Mai

No Better Time

I’ve been thinking a lot about 9/11 lately. Not that unsurprising, since I watched Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and read No Better Time: The Brief, Remarkable Life of Danny Lewin, the Genius Who Transformed the Internet recently. It brings home the point that our time alive is quite short. What’s also interesting is how we can relive the past (at least, mentally).

It’s quite interesting that time can repeat itself in our minds based on how much we cling onto our memories from a certain time, or even how much of the event has been recorded. 9/11 is arguably one of the most recorded terrorist attacks in history. The timeline of the attacks are documented with details to the second1. To me, time feels frighteningly slow as every next detail is accompanied with a timestamp. It wasn’t hard to read the roughly 200 pages of No Better Time, but the death of Danny Lewin, who is arguably the first person killed in the 9/11 attacks, doesn’t happen until the very last pages of the book. And the final pages of the book are where I probably read the slowest.

Hundreds of pages are spent on the Lewin’s life, with his notable achievements being in the military, starting a family, going into the Ph.D program at MIT, and working to end the World Wide Wait of the internet during the 90s. This all sets the stage for the climax of the book. The climax reveals the irony of Lewin’s life, as one of the motivations of ending the World Wide Wait was to prevent high traffic sites such as the news from crashing when breaking news occurred—-breaking news like 9/11, when the phone and radio lines went down, yet the web continued serving news thanks to Lewin’s work.

If Danny were still alive, I would have loved to have dinner with him, if not just to experience his invigorating character. The closest things I’ll have now are the stories about him and the published papers (here’s one) with his name that were critical to speeding up the Internet for everyone.

  1. Read it all on Wikipedia. The flight events alone are incredibly detailed: American Airlines Flight 11, United Airlines Flight 175, United Airlines Flight 93, and American Airlines Flight 77.