Fitting In Outside ‘The Box’

The GDC talk that nearly brought me to tears.


I spent the better part of my K-12 life committed to “fitting in.” I’m sure most of did. While the details of my personal journey are vague, the broad stokes are vivid and continue to permeate my behavior today.

In elementary school, I bounced back and forth between a schoolyard football organizing, video game baseball stat tracking, basketball card trading, Mighty Ducks obsessive to a Star Wars card collecting, Weird Al singing, LEGO building, video game lover. Entering kindergarten, I had my heart set on girls and my reputation set on boys.

Middle-school introduced me to skateboarding, LAN parties, and puberty. Days were spent watching amateur skate videos, failing to land front-side 360-flips down church five-stairs, cooling down with Quake bouts and 2-liters of soda, and stressing about how to kiss for the first time.

This continued through to the end of high school in which I graduated from the Space & Engineering Academy with Honors, maintaining an active role in the ASB, ensuring my legacy in the yearbook, and defending the rise of geek culture in the “popular” audience by means of an established punk attitude.

That said, once college hit, I felt lost. Those years spent focused on uniting divided parties seemed but a loss 300+ miles away from my hometown of Tracy, CA. What felt like a trudge through the trenches for years was met with crowds who couldn’t give less of a shit about my high school trifles and instead cared about college studies and partying.

Fast-forward to age 28, engaged, responsible, and career focused. While career ambitions and household priorities are established, steadfast, and paramount, personal passions and interests are now hidden. In the comfort of my own home, I’ve spent over three years parading around my fiancée about my love for video games, The Lord of the Rings, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles while dreaming about listening to jazz and writing for a living. While I praise her earnest desire to understand what drives me, I feel that I am living within a box in the professional world.

On April 8, 2014, a well respected acquaintance informed me of a GDC (Game Developers Conference) talk given by Ashly Burch and Rosalind Wisemana. The title of their talk? The Connection Between Boys’ Social Status, Gaming and Conflict.

At the invitation of this video, I was not deeply excited but remained intrigued due to my adoration for the referrer. However, after only minutes into the discussion, I was nearly in tears.

Early on, the presenters showcase a chart full of descriptors provided by 200 boys. This chart categorizes the descriptors into two separate spaces. Those in ‘the box’ and those outside. ‘The box’ refers to the qualities contribute to high social status and popularity for middle-school and high-school boys. All told, below are the following descriptors:

What contributes to high middle-school and high-school male social status and popularity (The Box):

  • Strong
  • Verbal skills
  • Tall
  • Detached
  • Smart but not stressed
  • Athletic at “right” sports
  • Girls like him
  • $$
  • Good style
  • Good at video games but not obsessed

What contributes to low middle-school and high-school male social status and popularity:

  • Backs down
  • Short
  • Poor
  • Acts like a girl
  • Bad style
  • Controlled by girls
  • Snitch
  • Awkward
  • Fat
  • Easily Upset
  • Tries too hard
  • Disabilities

After seeing these qualities laid out, memories of pleasing parents, attempting to fit in with multiple peer groups, and impressing girls came flooding back. Those fearful memories of seeking out my true interests by immersing myself in Magic: The Gathering at the risk of social ridicule to being the subject of disappointment at the decision to quit organized sports rushed to the forefront of my mind.

I had been found out. I realized that throughout the majority of my grade-school life, I had tried incredibly hard to fit into ‘the box.’ What was even more disturbing was the fact that at 28, I am still trying.

Though this was not the core reason for the talk, I felt waves of emotion pass over me. I have spent the better part of my life afraid of what others think and what my reputation is amongst those with more power than myself.

However, it suddenly become apparent that throughout all of the exhausting social ladder climbing, weaving in and out of relationships trying to please both parents and peers, I found release and comfort in video games. They do not judge. They exist to engage in fantastic worlds, stories, and puzzles. They showcase the wonder of man; narrative and participatory action architected with 1's and 0's. They stimulate the parts of me I am often fearful to express: my passions for technology, story, world-building, logic, humility, communication, and community.

As I watched the remainder of the talk, time seemed to slow. I remembered opening up a Game Boy on Christmas Day, re-experienced the joy of receiving a SEGA Genesis, spending hours in front of VTech Socrates, pulling all nighters trying to beat Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, convincing ourselves that Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero was a good game, reading the Myst Official Strategy Guide as a novel, getting lost in the world of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, having to shut off my N64 during the final cut-scene of Star Fox 64's hard path, pushing myself to level up in a StarCraft clan, staying up until dawn as Tidus in Final Fantasy X, watching my step-brother complete the entire God of War trilogy, losing track of time designing houses in The Sims, feeling awestruck and inspired by Journey, and waking up in the middle of the night to figure out what is going on in BioShock: Infinite.

While enduring the wondrous journey of identity (and lack thereof), fear of being “boxed in” and at the same time stepping out, I now freely open myself up to the opinions, world-views, and knowledge of others. This is something I take pride in. Though, my continuing insecurity and lack of confidence is ripe for a separate blog post.

Looking back on the GDC talk, I saw myself. Born at the tail-end of 1985 and immediately introduced to the rise of the video game world. I consider this to be the beginning of a sea-change of media ingestion. Like myself, millions of children find safe-haven in this medium where they are able to control a protagonist, work to solve problems, and actively participate in the outcome of a story. They are able to find meaning beyond oneself, have hope of success, experience social connection, and take part in satisfying work; as per Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken, these are the ingredients of happiness.

Throughout all of my time, jumping in and out of social identities from jock to nerd, from punk to prep, video games have always been a safe-haven for me to truly experience what it means to be happy. They are the Costco sampler to something larger. Even as an professional in the most prolific of landscapes, my focus remains on gaming. It is the medium that welcomed me. It allowed me to experience life outside of ‘the box’ in a comfortable manner. I never had to explain myself to any of the other players. We were all fighting for a like victory. It is a world of commune for all societal types and is possibly the largest entertainment medium in the world.

Consider this post as a step out of ‘the box.’ It is simply affirmation that video games do mirror social status and popularity. The video games kids play and the time spent playing them is a window into their world depicting their social status and identity. It is imperative that parents, mentors, and educators cast aside their ignorance and skepticism of the medium.

Next Story — I Hate Loving Video Games
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I Hate Loving Video Games

Too often, I’m afraid to share with others that I love video games. On the outside, I’m nothing more than Joe in an oxford and jeans. Look a little closer and you’ll see an array of geek culture items stuffed inside my cubicle; namely from the franchises of Lord of the Rings and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Look just a little bit closer and you’ll come across an original Game Boy, a Mega Man amiibo, and Monument Valley mini-posters.

Seeing as they work in the world of tech, I’m happy to share my passion for games with my closest colleagues, but only those who have expressed an interest in video games. Even amongst my closest friends, I endulge in game-related-talk with strategic delicacy. I continually apologize to my wife for my insatiable craving for video game news and related events. (House of Cards, Season 3 has been a source of frequent discussion.)

Recently, a handful of events within a matter of days made me realize just how embarrassed I was to share my passion for video games and the industry at large.

It began with a trip my therapist. I had/have been experiencing bouts of extreme depression and decided to, again, seek help. We had had a few talks, but during one particular session, I had squeamishly let out that I had blog. And for a bit, I beat around a the bush in avoiding that the blog was centered on video games. I did my best to cover it up as an obsession for the business of video games and the social issues surrounding the industry, but in the end I supposed that all she was heard was, “video games, video games, child, video games.” However, if a supposition was all I had created, it mustn’t have meant much at all.

Then I met with an esteemed colleague. It was a candid conversation, but nonetheless not a conversation I felt I deserved. (In fact, I still haven’t offered my formal “thanks” for the talk.) Worst of all, prior to our conversation, this person had been informed that I wrote a blog. I was absolutely mortified to learn that they knew of my passion for video games. (By the end of our conversation, they informed me that they had not read my blog, thank God.)

Days later, I decided to set aside writing. It began as an experiment. Would I feel happier without blogging?

Furthermore, I unfollowed any and all video game related Twitter accounts. (Okay, okay… I continued to follow them, but only exclusively from my blog’s Twitter account.) Would it ease my desire for dipping into the video games industry?

On the flip-side of my social media purge, I decided, if anything, I would not forgo my desire to play video games. (To be completely honest, lately, there hasn’t been a huge desire to play anyway, but that is a story for another blog post.)

It turns out, after a (short) blogging hiatus and unfollowing gaming Twitter accounts, I felt much happier and, in fact, played more video games.

As of a few days ago, I decided to dip back into blogging. I need to write, and there is nothing that flows more freely than writing about video games and the related industries and technologies. Though, as I have learned, this comes in extreme moderation. Only if something is truly gnawing at me will I blog about it. First comes family, then work.


During a jog this evening, listening to the TED Radio Hour, I stumbled upon the problem I’ve been trying to solve: I am embarrassed to love video games. It is a passion that is difficult to share with my wife, my family, my in-laws, my therapist, my boss, my friends, etc. And yet, it shouldn’t be.

Video games are a multibillion dollar industry that have always been at the threshold of emerging technology. They have pushed consumer tech, inspired education, and connected communities far and wide, tight and isolated. Certainly, there is plenty of controversy the indulgence of video games has sparked, but breaking education around the medium has been fascinating, enlightening, and encouraging.

Aside from Mega Man 2 being my first memory, the experience of seeing Sonic tap his foot during an idle animation sparked a fervor of imagination and inspiration. There has always been an unknowable, untouchable magic behind video games and I have always aimed to get close enough to never fully understand where the magic comes from; to tip-toe the line between creator and player; to never peak behind the curtain.

I hate loving video games because I cannot succinctly and accurately express their importance in this world. Those who grew up with them enjoy them, but those who didn’t, in my eyes, still don’t understand. They may have played Candy Crush on their smartphone or Farmville on Facebook; maybe they read a piece about video games in the New York Times or giggled at the joke about Solitare in You’ve Got Mail; but to me they still look at a lover of video games as an alien with unbalanced priorities.

As I write this I cannot tell you why it matters that gobs of people pay gobs of money to keep playing video games that will amount to what seems as some vapid personal satisfaction or gain, but there is something there. Something more than addiction and mindlessness. Something more than agency and narrative. Something more than technical bliss and inspiring art. Something that I have yet to put my finger on and hopefully never will; but I hope I get close enough to express its importance in a perspective shattering way.

Next Story — Home Economics 2.0
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Originally published on ZeroCounts.net


Home Economics 2.0

I’ve spent the better part of my career in technical support roles; hours upon hours equating RAM to freeways and CPU-cores to cooks in a kitchen. Countless individuals taking backup advice with a “ya, sure” and a head nod. People terrified over the word server and unassuming over the word “cloud”. It baffles me how such basic knowledge is so foreign.

“Consumers”, in today’s zeitgeist, are those that swallow vast amounts of audio, video, interactive, and written content, most of of which is digitally spoon fed. We spend large parts if not the majority of our days wrapped up in feeds and phones, devices and displays. How is it that none of us understand the fundamentals of how they operate?

I am not talking about the Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics behind everyday objects. I am not talking about teaching higher level concepts or tinkering with “niche” concepts like geometry, chemistry, or physics. I am talking about the everyday. I am talking about principle understanding of devices we fear to go without. Tools we use more than, well, tools!

Why is it that “computer classes” are electives? Why is it that those enamored with video games are the only ones expected to understand the relationship between browser tabs and RAM? Why is it that those obsessed with science fiction, participating in chess club, or enrolled in AP classes are the only ones expected to understand the severities of hard shutdowns? Why should cookies, encryption, or battery drain be mysteries to anyone born into today’s world; mysteries to those touching unfathomable technology at 12-months-old?

This is not STEM. This is fundamental. This is commonplace. This is home economics.

Wikipedia:

Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS), also known as home economics, is the profession and field of study that deals with the economics and management of the home and community.[1]The field deals with the relationship between individuals, families, and communities, and the environment in which they live.
As a subject of study, FCS is taught in secondary schools, colleges and universities, vocational schools, and in adult education centers; students include women and men. It prepares students for homemaking or professional careers, or to assist in preparing to fulfill real-life responsibilities at home. As a profession, it includes educators in the field and human services professionals.[2]
The field represents many disciplines including consumer science, nutrition, food preparation, parenting, early childhood education, family economics and resource management, human development, interior design, textiles, apparel design, as well as other related subjects. Family and Consumer Sciences education focuses on individuals and families living in society throughout the life span, thus dealing not only with families but also with their interrelationships with the communities. Other topics such as sexual education, food management, and fire prevention might also be covered.

Not a single mention of computers, yet nearly half of our time is spent in front of a screen. (Source: KPCB)

The misunderstanding or incomprehension of OS differences, dot-version subtleties, and computer languages can be expected. What should not be expected is the misunderstanding of “memory” versus “disk space” or the incomprehension of a kilo/mega/giga/tera/petabyte.

I do not fault those without basic computer knowledge or those born into this embarrassing system. There are simple things about computers I’m sure I do not wholeheartedly understand. There are simple things I use every day that I don’t understand. I drive a car to work and still have a very little idea of how it operates. I’m intimidated by the cable, electric, and gas lines in my home. Hand me a toggle bolt (yes, I had to look it up) and I would swear it was a missing piece from an Erector Set. I’m a music junkie and I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the technology behind vinyl records and cassette tapes, let alone speakers themselves!

The lack of basic knowledge about the technology we utilize day-in and day-out, the technology we can’t go five minutes without touching, tapping, refreshing, or waking gives me chills. I’m sure I get more pleasure from solving technological problems for people than most, but I sure as hell get tired of the same questions day-in and day-out. I know this is much bigger than a blog post, but his needs to stop. Redefine Home Ec 101 and make it mandatory.

Next Story — The Element of Surprise
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The Element of Surprise

And the imporance of first impressions

I have a problem.

I rarely use a hands-free solution to select music while driving with passengers. Directions? No problem. Texting? Forget about it. But with music, I believe in the element of surprise. I believe in it so much, I will risk taking my eyes off the road for it. I have a problem.

If I say to my phone, “play ‘Dreams’ by Fleetwood Mac,” I am sure my audience will have already imposed a judgement on the familiar song without actually being lulled into the pent up, sultry piece. Don’t get me wrong; “Dreams” is a phenomenal song and I could never sing enough praise about it, but it’s that simple introductory drum-to-bass fill that puts it over the top. It’s the hook that lights you up when it surprises you on the radio or in your playlist/mixtape. Entering into the song with an intro of, “play ‘Dreams’ by Fleetwood Mac,” kills the element of surprise. Most people (yours truly included) will have already jumped to Stevie howling “it’s only right” over the somber drums, bass, and swelling guitar. If not that, then the song’s legendary chorus. I can’t imagine the intro is anyone’s first thought.

For context, other examples include:

  • “You Make My Dreams” – Daryl Hall & John Oates
  • “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” – Michael Jackson
  • “Higher Ground” – Stevie Wonder
  • “Understanding In A Car Crash” – Thursday
  • “Sussudio” – Phil Collins
  • “Invisible Touch” – Genesis

Until consumer tech is able to read minds, I don’t think this is a problem for technology to solve. The real problem here is caring way too much about what other people think. That is a problem I need a solution to now.

Next Story — Terrorizing Ourselves?
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Terrorizing Ourselves?

I was in Terminal 1 at JFK, and scared at how easily we terrorized ourselves

Imagine receiving a text like this:


The Experience

I was traveling to Malmö, Sweden to give a talk at a conference on “Building an Empathetic Company” by way of Norwegian Air via Copenhagen. It was a red-eye flight scheduled to leave at 9:55 PM.

Since it was the first time I had flown Norwegian and I couldn’t check-in online, I left for the airport with plenty of time. At 7:30 PM on a Sunday night, Terminal 1 was busy but not hectic. Norwegian had a long line and a shorter one for passengers with no bags to check. I had a duffel, so I went to the short line, got my ticket, and made it through Security quickly.

I stopped at a restaurant in-between Gate 4 and Gate 6, had dinner, and read. When 9:15 came around, I paid my bill and walked to Gate 7 to board my flight. The crowd loitered, waiting for instructions, until the gate agents announced the flight would be delayed an hour. So I walked around looking for a seat that didn’t feel claustrophobic.

I’m telling you this, because where I ended up sitting made a difference.

I chose a seat to the far left of the terminal in the last aisle of Gate 8 where there was nothing but open space and a food stand. I figured I should do something productive, and started to write out goals for the upcoming week to share with my team. I was immersed thinking about the week ahead when a piercing alarm filled the terminal.


Lights above the terminal gates started blinking a long pronounced floodlight warning, and lights on the ceiling darted in a hurried blue and white whir. I realized the alarms had been going off as I typed and that they had gotten louder, or it wasn’t until others around me began to notice and react, that their message reached me.

People started to scream.

“What is happening?” I asked myself.

I watched as people darted through the terminal towards me. I put my carry-on on my back and grabbed my duffel with my free hand. Phone in the other, I tried to open the camera app as I backed up against the window a few seats away.

The screaming became deeper, and echoed through the terminal.

I remembered thinking, “Men are screaming too” as I managed to swipe to video, bent down behind a row of seats and began to film.

I did this for exactly 16 seconds, before I realized something was wrong. Very wrong.

Still from the video I shot. You can see the full one on Twitter @MsSapone

The video shows dozens running for the emergency exits. What it does not capture is the scale of what happened next.

I think so few videos were shared from that night, because people were too afraid to even think about filming


As I dropped my phone, a stream of people came at breakneck speed through the terminal.

There was another wave of piercing screams and the echo of people running.

It was a stampede of people. It was like the terminal had been lifted vertically and people were falling like checkers on a Connect Four board, slamming into a pile at the exits.

I let my duffel fall and surveyed the room. I could cross 100 feet to a door where people were crowding, or another 200 feet to either corner of the terminal where dozens more were pushing their way out.

It registered that the last two exits at the end of the terminal were better. They had bigger doors.


Another wave of screams filled the terminal. I dropped to my stomach and slid underneath the aisle of seats. To my right, many people were doing the same. To my left, I watched as a woman hid behind a waste bin. She was bigger than the square recycle/trash canister, and as she banged herself into it, it skid and reverberated.

It was the same reaction a caged animal has when a trap slams down. It wants to get out. Every cell in its body moves at an incredible speed to fulfill this desire. It cannot feel pain as it hits against metal.

I looked down at my own hands. My right hand gripped my phone and my left was shaking. “Was I afraid?” I asked myself.


Interrupting this thought a sound filled the terminal.

“POWH. POWH. POWH. POWH. POWH.”

Gunshots.

Or was it clapping for Usain Bolt’s gold-medal victory?

Or was it the sound of line separators that direct traffic at Security, falling in cacophonous succession (all the way back before the gates began)?

Or maybe the sound of joints exploding off a door?

None of these media-suggested alternatives occurred to me.

It was gunfire. To me. To many others.


My brain searched furiously for an explanation. “Where is Security? Where the F#&*! is everyone?” Lying flat on the ground under the seats, I locked eyes with a Filipino man and his young daughter. His eyes were bulging and he uttered one statement on repeat.

“Oh God. Oh God. Oh God,” as he pulled his screaming daughter beneath him.

I looked at his daughter and whispered, “Shhhh… It’s Ok…Shhhh.”

A cacophonous scream erupted in the terminal moments after the shots fired. I looked with others out onto the empty aisle of the Terminal.

We were waiting for the person that had fired to emerge, a group of people even. To make demands, or maybe no demands at all. Maybe just make a point.


People have asked me what it felt like. I think this is the first time I understood what the word “terror” means to so many people who have really experienced it.

Yes it was scary, but that’s not good enough. Imagine being in the desert and a wild animal is chasing you, hell-bent on ripping every limb off. It’s that, and the realization that this animal is not acting on basic predatory instincts. This animal is a human, and it wants to hurt you.

It’s a deeper level of fear because your mind can not comprehend it. It is in complete disbelief. A state of terror.

Your mind goes to 9/11, Orlando, Columbine, what your Military buddy must have felt in Afghanistan. In the moment, you reference these other events.


No security came. No announcement. Just chaos. I had no doubt at the time that in that moment, my life was in my own hands.


Quiet overcame the terminal for a moment. I became aware of the feeling of my stomach against the ground. I surveyed the three exits again and not consciously, but with my feet, made the decision to run for the far right doors. I ran across dropped food; a giant soda cup; ice avalanched; Coke all over the floor. There were hundreds of things everywhere, computers, bags, shoes, jackets. Things were still spinning from the wave of people that had just kicked their way out.


Why did I run? There was an overwhelming feeling of being trapped. There was a window of opportunity, and since I could not see the perpetrator, there was still ambiguity on the outcome, and maybe the opportunity to escape. We were in danger. I felt like a deer bounding across an open field, hoping the hunter was looking the other way.


I ran 150 feet, did a running jump over a row of chairs and ran other 20 feet through open doors.

I ran with others into a wide, cement stairwell. A pilot and two flight attendants crowded in the corner, staring at the running crowd in nonplussed, confusion. They grabbed their wheelie bags close, seemingly unsure what to do as people whizzed by them.

“Go down the stairs!” my brain told me.

I watched a man help another man hop down the stairs, limping and jumping down the steps as if he had sprained a ankle.

Their faces communicated fear, “We are not moving fast enough.” The exit stairwell was wide and people rushed down, toppling, getting up again and running.

Now one floor down, I had a choice. “Get out on this level? Get out here? No. Keep going. Get outside.”


I ran through the doors out onto the airport runway into a crowd of hundreds and hundreds of people. People around me darted across the tarmac. Hundreds of people huddled along the terminal walls as planes landed. I looked around for Security. “What are we doing? What is going on?”.

More people raced onto the tarmac from behind me. I watched people hide in luggage trolleys, under cars, by the wheels of planes. Most of us kept moving, some with rolling bags, many with nothing. Shoes were missing. People were running in torn tights. We made our way in fast procession to the farthest corner of the tarmac near what would have been Gate 1.

The crowd seemed to be asking the same thing, “Are we safe?”.

There were men in yellow, reflective vests who were unsure what to do — “Stay right, keep moving” — one said quietly.

Near the Arrivals door under Gate 1, Port Authority police screamed into their walkie talkies. They gestured for us to wait. I turned my face to my phone and opened Twitter. I had bad reception, but I tried to share an update.

Then the quiet. People crowded. One man near me opened a pack of cigarettes and lit one. People around him jumped at the sight of flame. I took a picture. We waited. Then the cops announced, “Ok, out these doors”.

A crowd waits on the tarmac outside Arrivals in Terminal 1

The crowd started to move forward slowly. It didn’t feel safe yet.

Security had expressly not said, “Everything is under control”. They didn’t know. And this was being communicated in what they said, and what they hadn’t. Letting children and their parent’s go first, I stood next to the man smoking a cigarette; he dropped it to the ground, darted forward, and ran to the top of the line.

Without warning, screaming erupted, and the crowd that was exiting peacefully into the airport, exploded. There was a quick shoving match between a frantic outgoing crowd and the ingoing procession and then instantly, everyone changed direction.

OUT!” People stampeded out the doors, terror on their faces. A woman fell, her knee gushed open. The crowd dispersed along the sides of the tarmac.

Security ran too.

I hid behind the back of a van in the corner. Others huddled around me. A few minutes passed. Crowds started to descend from planes 500 feet away. They were standing and sitting in orderly squares. Slowly, people started to stand up near me as two security guards emerged and told us — once again — to make a line to leave the asphalt tarmac to the ground floor of the Terminal into Arrivals and Customs.

A woman from Sweden with her son, asked the police — “How do you know it’s safe?”. She had just watched people stream out in terror.

Still behind a large Homeland Security van, I stood on the bumper to watch what was happening. People started to file into the terminal.

“Ok. I can go too.” I thought. I jumped off the bumper to the right of the van and began to make my way to the door when screaming erupted and for a second time, dozens came running out the door stampeding into the exiting crowd. I hit the floor again, and shuffled under the van.

Others would ask me why I choose to go under the van. “Was it smart? What if a cop suspected me?”All I can say is in that moment, I had watched people run for their lives in five separate waves.

There was no feeling of calm, or evacuation.

This wasn’t a fire drill.

I remember looking down and watching a large ant walk past me. I stretched my feet and lay them flat on the ground, pressed my hands against the gravel like a pose in yoga, ready to push out from under the car. It still wasn’t safe — people ran around me. It got quiet again, and I sent texts to several people including a friend who was a Navy Seal inside the terminal, who would later be quoted in the the New York Times as saying:

“I’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan, and I’ve never been in this situation where you’re in a massive crowd and there’s nothing you can do.” -NYT

and in his own blog he wrote:

I was confident that I was in charge of my own destiny at this point. -SOFREP

Many minutes later, a cop flashed a light under the car and asked me to come out. I obliged, and sat on the curb with others.


I went to Twitter to look for any answers on what was happening. No statement issued seemed to reflect what I was experiencing. Twitter trolls were out and active.

It surprised me that as I was currently still experiencing what was happening at JFK, people continued to tweet at me that “there was was no event”. Another twenty minutes went by before we walked through the doors of Arrivals. Baggage Claim and Customs where mobbed.

Who knows how many people went through Customs without showing their passports? Passengers would later recount watching a stream of people, at least 40 people, running through Customs to the curb of Arrivals. This is significant, but not reported.

Bags and shoes were scattered throughout Baggage Claim. People started to line up again, but there was no real order, or clear direction. One guard asked me what flight I was on and led me to the front of the line at Customs. The white-faced security guard asked my name. He typed on his computer, seemed to look at a manifest, and waved me through, not making eye contact.


Inside the terminal

It seemed like we were free to leave. The Navy Seal texted me that he was already home in the city. My bag was still in the terminal, and passengers whispered to each other that flights were still leaving. Eventually a guard asked us to stand in line to go through Security.

Terminal 1 TSA stared the crowd down. They spoke amongst themselves, and cracked a joke or two to release the tension. They tried to ignore passengers asking them what was happening. An airport security guard or gate agent told us to form a line. I waited in one line or another for four hours, waiting to retrieve my bag from the terminal. I would get home from the airport at 5 AM.

Exhausted. Adrenaline. Waiting in those lines, I watched Twitter and the media form a perception of what had happened.

There was no mention of Terminal 1 — as if everything you just read was a figment of my imagination. Passengers were exhausted. I think most people were too in shock to exchange experiences. The terminal was very, very quiet.

Many of the media reports that night and in the following days used the word hysteria. I would describe the feeling differently.It was a feeling that did not end until 11:48PM for me. More than 90 minutes after this all began. Internalize that.

For 1 hour and 30 minutes, I and others in this major American airport, in 2016, were in a true state of terror.

Did We Terrorize Ourselves?

If you saw the news, the headlines and message communicated “no big deal, move along”. That was not my experience. It was a big deal to me and hundreds of fellow passengers at JFK that night.

I shared my experience because I think it’s important to put it out there. It should make people uncomfortable.

And not because it was scary, but because it’s scary how much of a discrepancy it is to what was officially reported.

At the end of the day, I went home and then got on my flight the next day — exhausted and a little shaken — but just 24 hours later, I was back to living my life.

We live in one of the greatest, safest places that’s ever been and it’s our responsibility to uphold that greatness and safety.

We do that by demanding better journalism — real stories. Reading long form. Opting out of pablum, and listicles, and puffery on blog sites. The cursory reporting that came out on this event simply wasn’t good enough, and people didn’t ask enough questions before playing Monday morning quarterback on the social sphere.

We are our own editors these days and if we only read “How to Launch a Startup in 3 Easy Steps” we start to lack empathy for the world as it really is.

In fact, I believe our reactive behaviors on social media — drowning ourselves in opinions, knee-jerk reactions, insults, and trolling even by would-be-presidents — are eroding our safety more than any single bad actor can.

We can’t let feelings, unsubstantiated by true facts, grow into into a toxic force that pulls the fabric of our society

We must learn together. We have to set a higher bar for ourselves and our institutions.

We can’t let fear stop clear and transparent communication from authorities to the public. Suppressing, downplaying, or avoiding isn’t the safe or smart move. We can be thoughtful and positive. I do not expect our institutions to be perfect, but we need to learn. Let’s make a plan to fix the clear failure in the response.

The media should not let the story fade away.

How is it possible that with so many people in the airport, no account like this has been shared outside of the New York Magazine piece?

Reporting is a noble job — I hope it continues to attract great people to take on the challenge.

Finally we have to be better humans, please.

Get off the junk food diet of cursory reporting, PR masked as news, and non fact-checked opinion threads. The people that control the news, control perception. In many ways we are more in control than we’ve ever been. The papers of yesterday may not be able to afford deep reporting, so we need to do it ourselves and demand better with our attention and wallets.

There is a raw, exposed nerve in the public from the divisiveness of our discourse. America is great, when it acts greatly.

And to take it full circle. We all need to practice a hell of a lot more empathy for others and ourselves.

We have to be active in our society. We have to vote. To stand up for what is right. Next time it could be life and death — as it easily could have been this time.

If we don’t learn from this experience, we have in fact terrorized ourselves.

You can find me on twitter @MsSapone

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