I really hadn’t intended to write a 9/11 post here. It doesn’t seem to fit with whatever this blog is supposed to be. But it’s all over the newspaper and it’s all over Twitter, and I’m sure if I turned on the TV I’d see 9/11 all over again. Even the Sunday comics were more touching than comic, so I guess it’s fitting that I share my thoughts.
The morning of September 11, 2001 dawned. I’m not sure how it dawned, because I was still sound asleep in my room at Purdue’s Cary Quadrangle. My alarm went off at some point to tell me to wake up and go to class, and I ignored it. A few weeks into my collegiate career, I had already decided that 8:30 chemistry lectures were optional. I didn’t wake up again until my roommate Carl came back from his morning classes. “Dude. One of the World Trade Center towers collapsed,” he told me. “Fuck off, Carl,” was my reply. I was barely awake, and I was convinced that Carl was bullshitting me.
So he turned on the TV.
I don’t remember what time it was. I don’t even remember where in the timeline it happened. All I know is that for the rest of the day, Carl and I sat on Lucy the Couch and watched CNN. We couldn’t look away. I don’t even think I left to go to the restroom until about 2:00 that afternoon. And that’s when I first started to realize the magnitude of what had happened. There were about 40 guys on my end of the floor, mostly freshmen and sophomores, and it was rarely a quiet place. Without air conditioning, we all kept our doors open to get air flow. But as I walked down the hall to the bathroom, I realized that all I could hear was the sound of everyone’s televisions.
That night, Carl and I went to go get dinner. I don’t think we went with friends as we normally did. It was more of a “we haven’t eaten all day and there’s no new news, let’s go grab a bite real quick” decision. The Cary dining hall, one of the most popular eateries in all of University Residences, was subdued. The kids of middle-Eastern decent looked nervous and ate quietly and away from everyone else. Were they afraid of misplaced retribution? To my relief, I never heard of such an occurrence at Purdue. The same could not be said for other college campuses.
Life returned to normal fairly quickly for us. No classes were cancelled. Homework was still there. Most of us, being generally Midwesterners, had few ties to New York City. While the news was horrific, it didn’t impact our daily lives. And here we are 10 years later. The political climate is soured. Our troops are still in Afghanistan. Laws passed to aid the fight against terrorism have been used largely to combat domestic drug crimes. And yet we maintain this promise to never forget.
And so I think about the other events that we, as a nation, have sworn to remember. The Alamo, the Maine, Pearl Harbor. Each of these events were a rallying cry for a moment in time, a common thought that drove the people toward a goal. But as time has passed, we seem to remember them less. The events are still recalled, but with no more clarity than a history lesson. The personal stories are fading, and continue to do so as a an ever smaller percentage of our population has first-hand stories to tell.
A decade on, the September 11 attacks are still remembered. Will they be in 2101? Certainly the history and political science texts will have much to say. But what will our national conscious say? Does the fact that the victims were civilians instead of military personnel make this more enduring? Will the digital age help preserve our stories? Or will time simply wash this event from our collective thoughts?
As a technology enthusiast, I am intrigued by the role that technology may play in our shared history. Although social media didn’t really exist in 2001, it now provides an opportunity for shared reflection. People are able to interconnect in ways that were not possible on December 7, 1951. We’ve seen the role Twitter and Facebook can play in driving revolution in oppressive regimes. What will our Tweets, our statuses, and our blog posts do to ensure we truly never forget?