Technology and the way we remember 9/11: Ten years later

9/11 Memorial

The 9/11 Memorial. (http://www.911memorial.org/)

Ten years ago, I was a senior in high school when we heard the news of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City, followed by the attack on the Pentagon and the crash of United Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa. I remember being frustrated that I couldn’t watch as much news coverage as I wanted to while in school. My school — a small, private K-12 school — was trying to keep up a semblance of normalcy for the small kids. Classes and soccer practice went on as normal, but I remember feeling that it was somehow wrong to be running laps when so much was going on elsewhere in my state and country.

At home, I watched as much of the TV coverage as I could. The events of 9/11 weren’t the first news coverage I watched intently — I recall getting up early to watch Princess Diana’s funeral and later, coverage of the 2000 presidential election — but, like everyone, I knew 9/11 was something beyond anything the U.S. had ever experienced before. As I watched the replay of the images of smoke and terror, I recall feeling vulnerable. I knew with certainty that the world had changed. We would never go back to normal; there was a new normal now.

As we remember those events from the perspective of 10 years later, I am also struck by how much has also changed in terms of media and news coverage of such events, perhaps even partially in response to 9/11. On 9/11/01, there was no Twitter, no Facebook, no YouTube. In my house, we had barely had an Internet connection installed (after years of begging on my part). On 9/11/01 there were, however, digital cameras, cell phones and compact video recorders. The major media had relied on content produced by amateurs before (such as the Zapruder film of President Kennedy’s assassination.) But the events of 9/11 were somehow different. Images and video from ordinary people who witnessed extraordinary events poured in to news media and out across the airwaves. People wanted to know — and the media wanted to tell us — what it was like, what the people at Ground Zero were experiencing first-hand.

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