9/11 Confession

I didn’t want to do this. I don’t like the whole reflect on tragedy thing. I clearly didn’t like it seven years ago either (I think I’ve mellowed a bit since then, thankfully). Even eight years ago I was understandably uneasy. (I’m not sure if it was intentional or not, but I haven’t blogged on this day since 2001.)

But as the tweets kept coming up today and I started clicking on links and reading stories, first this one about a 9/11 curriculum and students who don’t remember 9/11 and then this collection of Pulitzer prize-winning 9/11 photos. The first article was hard enough to get through (it doesn’t help that parenthood has set in since 9/11, which has made me more emotional)—it’s weird to realize my kids won’t relate to 9/11 like I will. But then I started to remember.

I was at my desk in the Internet department at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, getting started on work as other coworkers came in telling stories about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. At first it sounded like a small prop plane, but as we tried to get online and find out more it became clear that it was much worse. Much of the morning was spent trying various web sites, trying to find one that wasn’t crashing, trying to get some sort of update.

I remember sitting in our apartment and watching the endless news coverage. I remember impending war and wondering if it would solve anything (eight years later we’re still in Afghanistan, though I wonder what choice we had). I remember a line at the gas station on the corner, angry people honking and shouting. I remember going out and buying a car a few weeks later. I remember flying on more planes in the months after 9/11 then I had in the several years before. I remember being greeted at the airport by a soldier with a machine gun for the first time. I remember anthrax and paranoia and realizing we were getting a taste of reality. It became a different world.

I have a 9/11 confession to make: After Sept. 11, 2001 I anticipate tragedy. Will that jet explode? Will that truck crash? Will that bridge collapse? It’s morbid and it’s weird, but I can’t help it. Especially since that kind of tragedy continues to happen. It’s not all consuming or anything, but it’s something that didn’t happen before 9/11.

Update: I feel compelled to add how 9/11 changed both technology and my perception of world news (which is perhaps why I anticipate tragedy). 9/11 was the first major world event I paid attention to. I mean, my family always watched the news and I read the newspaper and knew what was happening in the world, but rarely before had I watched events unfold (missile strikes during the Clinton years and perhaps Waco on the school news channel the few exceptions).

This article tries to imagine what it would have been like if 9/11 happened in our social media world of iPhones and Twitter. I think it glosses over the fact that many people did turn to the web for news—to the extent that every major news site was shut down and most actually reconfigured their homepages to load quickly. They do mention how Dave Winer devoted his blog to news coverage that day, which I think was an early example of the incredible change to come. Fast forward a few years and I watched the Iraq war unfold on the Command Post blog (certainly other sources as well, but that blog seemed to scoop everyone else).

After 9/11 my instict is always to go to the web for news, anticipating tragedy, watching to see how CNN reconfigures its homepage in the face of major news, now watching Twitter for the earliest reports. A different world indeed.

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