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Limited by our own creativity

I may have been one of the few people in the world who didn't know what was happening on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001.

I may have been one of the few people in the world who didn't know what was happening on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001.

As the Himalayas disappeared from view and the grassy Tibetan Plateau turned into an endless urban sprawl, flocks of people piled onto the train, newspapers in hand. Although packed, the only sounds on that trip were from the train itself - the clatter of the cars as they trundled along the rickety track.

On the front page of the paper was a picture that looked like an ad for a thriller movie. Finally I found a gentleman who spoke a little bit of English.

"Five-side building down, four planes down, two big building down," he said.

Seeing my expression, the old man placed his hand on my shoulder and with a knowing look whispered, "No worry. This is Chinese government stories. Propaganda."

But when I arrived in China's capital, Beijing's streets were not as bustling as I expected them to be. Instead, people huddled around televisions set up in storefronts and the ever-popular Internet cafés had unusually long lineups. With a sting, the truth finally hit me. This was real.

MSN Hotmail was only four years old at the time. The public version of the Internet was 10 years old. But its use had already reached remote communities all long the Silk Road route I'd been travelling. In Iran and Pakistan, dial-up Internet cafés rivaled teahouses in popularity.

The attacks on the twin towers were a historic moment for the Internet, according to the nonpartisan "fact tank," the Pew Research Center. While only three per cent of online Americans said the Internet was their primary source for information during the attacks, the day marked a significant boost in online use. From then on, it has only increased. A year and a half later, in the weeks leading up to the "war on terror," 26 per cent of online Americans said they turned to the Internet for their news.

For me, 9/11 marked the first time I truly realized the Internet could change media forever. Here was a vehicle that could promote insight between the youth I'd met in Iran and the friends I had in Canada. It presented opportunities to alter lives and resolve problems. I wanted in and so entered journalism school.

But 10 years later, I am still waiting for that change. While the majority of newspapers have spaces for comments below their web stories, most discussions don't run much deeper than that. Newspapers' Facebook and Twitter accounts are little more than an extension of advertising what's already on their webpage.

While media has been slow to harness the Internet's tools, people have not. Last January, while the Egyptian government was busy trying to suppress its people and press, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube were aiding a revolution. At the time, American U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice was quick to comment on the online activity.

"Governments are increasingly cognizant of their power," she told the media.

I still hold out hope that the media will catch on. Newspapers need to peel themselves away from being a paper online and seize the endless potential the Internet offers - such as becoming a community hub, interactive educational tool and meeting spot. With all of today's real-time technology, the only thing limiting us is our own creativity.

And I believe that if we try, the Internet could open up doors to a kind of peace humanity has never experienced - a world in which tragedies like 9/11 would be preventable through communication and understanding.

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