What if we’d had Twitter on 9/11?

If you're still able to hear from wherever you are, Amy, this is for you.

One of the more more formative events in my life — from the perspective of shaping my attitudes about politics, war and my industry (news) — was the series of terror attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001, collectively known as 9/11.

Amy Toyen [via]
There is a whole cohort registering to vote this year who might vaguely remember their parents' reactions that day, another getting drivers licenses who were too young, and more becoming bar and bat mitzvot who were just being born.

It was 13 years ago, and it's very much etched in the brains of almost every adult today, but very soon that won't be the case.

I was walking my neighborhood at 4 a.m. one night last month – a night that ended with The Associated Press confirming the death of a sprint car driver after our normal closing hours. We found out minutes before The AP moved a story thanks to a Tweet from a local reporter.

We didn't have Twitter on 9/11. We didn't have Facebook. We didn't have YouTube. We had Google, but it was still nascent and not doing enough traffic to be archived multiple times daily as it is now — the Way Back Machine picked it up on Aug. 23, 2001 and didn't come back until Sept. 17 of that year.

Residential broadband was just coming into being. Cell phones were really just starting to become a thing everybody had, though most people were still hanging onto their home phones (many because they needed a home phone line to access the Internet).

Despite our seemingly limited ability to communicate (ha!), we still had a problem then knowing when to shut up. News went on for days about 9/11 to the exclusion of just about everything else. NPR, CNN, Fox, it didn't matter. The stock market was closed the rest of the week. Baseball was shut down. If anything else was going on in the world, it was invisible to U.S. media.

The early reports — yes, we did have 24-hour cable news and the Internet — were crazy. 10,000 were dead, another hijacked plane was heading for L.A. and one maybe toward Chicago. And then it was over, and we sheltered in place around our TVs for three days.

Despite the initial reports being highly speculative and wildly inaccurate, we did not yet have the dreaded Internet rumor mill — you know, the one that kills celebrities and retires basketball players.

Can you imagine what Twitter and Facebook would have looked like on 9/11 — especially considering that, even today, nobody with any first-hand knowledge (as in, having been there) would have had any cell phone service (much like that day)? It might have taken days to dig out some facts, instead of the hours it took us.

Let me ask, then: Do you use your social networks responsibly?

10 Septembers, 20 Septembers
Memorialize 9/11 by being more awesome

Memorialize 9/11 by being more awesome

It's the 11th anniversary of the September 11 attacks against the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and an innocent field in the middle of nowhere. Somewhere, there's a memorial service going on. Somewhere, someone's still applauding Clint Eastwood for blaming Barack Obama for sending troops to Afghanistan, which actually happened in December of 2001, during George W. Bush's first year in office, in the wake of those attacks. Somewhere – a lot of somewheres, actually – someone is crying for a lost family member, friend, or stranger who died that day. And somewhere, someone at a law enforcement agency is taking credit for stopping a terrorist plot set for the anniversary that may or may not have actually been in the works (it's tough when "success" means that nothing happened).

These are all fine ways to remember 9/11. Except the Clint Eastwood thing. That was just weird.

But a lot of people forget something else that happened immediately after the planes hit the towers that Tuesday morning. A lot of young people – the supposedly disengaged, video game generation, the first to grow up with the Internet in their homes and so supposedly with no real ability to connect with other humans face to face – became part of something bigger. They stood up and joined the military, said "never again" and went off to fight Bush's battles in Afghanistan and Iraq. Another group of the same generation picked up signs and joined their elders on picket lines and in getting arrested for the sake of peace – don't go off killing the vast majority of people in those countries who had absolutely nothing to do with any of it.

People got engaged. They made changes in their lives. And some people even started living like it could happen again, to them, and they were going to achieve their dreams so that if it did happen tomorrow, they'd be able to say they'd lived out those dreams.

And now we're back to moments of silence and the two-party blame game, and we're pretty much just sitting or standing around being armchair citizens and Monday morning political quarterbacks and we're just the same group of people who got attacked 11 years ago. Only more paranoid.

It's time to get back to living our dreams, to creating things, to being more awesome. Will that make people dislike us again? Probably, but if you're going to be hated, make it because people are jealous, not because you're stupid or lazy or disengaged. Today, get ready to do something amazing, because tomorrow, someone might fly a plane into your desk.

10 Septembers, 20 Septembers

Revolutions happen overnight; apathy takes time.

We're approaching the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings. This was a one-morning, shock-and-awe event. We all knew, while our parents' generation had the assassination of John F. Kennedy to say, "I remember where I was when I found out...," this would be that event for Americans of our generation.

» Amy Toyen Remembrances

We're all talking about it this week. I have the New York Times from Sept. 12, 2001. I have the special memorial issue of Time magazine. I have memories.

And I have disgust. What I learned in the pursuant days and years is that as individuals, we are amazing. As systems, we just don't get it.

That Tuesday and the rest of that week would have been a great time to go on a crime binge – almost all the news, from CNN to NPR to FOX to the Wall Street Journal to local newspapers across the country, was about the hijackings. No one would have known if anything else was going on. When the markets re-opened and lost something in the area of 700 points on the following Monday, everybody ran for the hills without noticing that the markets had been in steady decline and were probably going to lose that cumulatively over the previous week if they'd been open.

Airline security got crazy; flying became a really difficult form of transportation because nobody, until very recently, looked at the more successful models (I'm thinking about El Al's method, which, in addition to being really effective, feels really non-intrusive).

I learned a sense of frustration and cynicism from the media and airline industries.


Ten years prior, in late September of 1991, a trio from Seattle called Nirvana released their second album, Nevermind. The lead single was a loud tune with unremarkable lyrics that were difficult to understand. The title was "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and the cacophonous arrangement was the antithesis of the deodorant ad the song riffed on.

There had already been punk, and rock 'n' roll, and heavy metal, and hip-hop, but middle class, east coast high school students surrounded by gangs, punks, AIDS, dropouts and teen pregnancy had something new in the flannel-clad un-hip grunge movement, which was bringing back Converse All-Stars and giving parents a new reason to slam doors while shouting, "Turn that crap down!"

Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney and a bunch of others – many also hailing from the Seattle area – soon followed into the mainstream.

I had already become aware of personal-political revolutions. Now I was experiencing a creative revolution for the first time.

As the 1990s crawled on, Eastern Europe was in constant turmoil, the U.S. experienced domestic terrorism in Oklahoma City, and popular music began a slide into boy bands and Brittney Spears.

The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks woke up a country that had more or less fallen asleep through the end of the Clinton administration and the dot-com bubble. The creative revolutions that followed were primarily in technology and business, and now the U.S. is drifting off to sleep again.

We've given up a lot in the way of privacy. Our airline security procedures make it worth driving a trip up to 8 hours or more, because flying won't save us any time these days. Gas costs nearly 4 times what it did 15 years ago, even though minimum wage hasn't even doubled in that time. We're in a couple of wars that have been going on nearly 10 years with no resolution – or clearly defined goal – in sight.

But the rest of the world is back in the midst of revolution. We want in on a lot of that (see Syria, Egypt, Lybia). What's next for the U.S.? For my generation? For the next? You'd have to be tuned in if you were going to stay tuned. So, guess it's time to start. And...go!