This Week In Techdirt History: September 11th

from the yeah dept

So, each week we usually look back at what happened on Techdirt five, ten and fifteen years ago. It’s a fun little way to look back at things. But, of course, the “fifteen years ago” this week includes September 11th, 2001. We actually had published five short stories earlier in the morning, before the attacks happened. I know lots of people have their “where were you” on September 11th story — but mine is pretty simple. I was home in California, asleep in bed. A good friend (who also grew up in NY, but also lived in California at the time) called me and woke me up in the morning to tell me that planes had flown into the towers. I turned on the old TV I had in my bedroom at the time and just lay in bed and watched it for a few hours in horror. I eventually decided I had to write something… but it was just a short post saying that we wouldn’t be posting anything else that day. I included a few links on how to donate blood, a site tracking news and a site for people to report if they were okay. The rest of the day I was just numb, wondering what was going on and if everyone I knew back in NY was okay (two of my high school classmates — one of whom I’d actually gone to school with since 1st grade, and whose early birthday parties I remember attending — were killed in the attacks).

The rest of that week, I wasn’t quite sure what to publish. Being snarky about tech news didn’t really seem appropriate or reasonable. We had something debunking a stupid “Nostradamus predicted this” story and then just more posts with basic information about what was happening and how/where some people could help. On the afternoon of September 12th, I finally started to come to terms with my feelings about what happened — and my initial fears of what was coming next:

Let me be clear. I am angry. The few people who have spoken to me know this. I am angry that there are people in this world who could contemplate, let alone organize, plan, and carry out such a horrendous event. However, I am now scared. Scared about our priorities. Right now our priorites should be helping those who are suffering because of this mess. We should then work on ways to prevent this from ever happening again. Then we can talk about justice. The folks concentrating on revenge right now have their priorities screwed up. I am scared of the reports I am hearing. I am scared of people jumping to conclusions. I am scared of stereotyping. I am sickened by the numerous people I’ve heard or read blaming the US or their allies for causing this as well. There were some absolutely insane and mad things behind this. I cannot call them human beings. There are some sick and ignorant people cheering these events. They are ignorant. They don’t deserve to be destroyed either. Instead, I’m hearing ridiculous reports of people threatening and targeting completely innocent people. I understand that people are looking for folks to blame. That’s understandable. But, it’s not something that we need to focus on now. And, when we do look for those answers, it only creates additional harm and danger to generalize and stereotype any group of people. As one New Yorker stated, “In Manhattan, we aren’t in a state of war, we’re in a state of mourning”. There is no “right” solution on what to do about this. However, jumping to conclusions and making assumptions is only going to make the situation worse.

And by the very next day, I was (rightly so!) concerned about how this would lead to increased surveillance of the internet. At the same time, I was impressed with how useful the internet had been as a tool for people to communicate during the attack, and enabling people to come together and mourn together. We were also interested in using technology to prevent hijackings. In other words, the same stuff that we often talk about: happy about the power of innovation, but worried about government surveillance and abuse of the technology. Some things never change.

There were a bunch of other posts, as well, many just trying to come to terms with what had happened — and what it would mean for the future. Much of what we feared did come true. As we now know, the government immediately pushed through a series of bad laws (starting with the PATRIOT Act) while expanding all sorts of surveillance programs. And let’s not even start talking about the seemingly random wars, with weak justifications loosely linked back to that one day, 15 years ago. And where has it gotten us? The cool and innovative technology stuff that we talk about is still progressing, but now more and more we need to use it to protect ourselves against the prying eyes of “collect it all” intelligence officials.

We take off our shoes and can’t bring water into airports any more. We’re constantly told that we’re “at war.” And I don’t feel any safer today than I did that week, 15 years ago. We had a moment — just a chance — to rethink how we did things, how we approached the world, and to come together. And instead, we went with the most primal, simplistic response of “let’s attack” and “let’s spy on everyone.” And what has it gotten us?

At the end of each year, I like to write about all the things I’m optimistic about. And, for the most part that sentiment is present during the rest of the year as well. But this week is a depressing reminder of (1) how some people can do amazingly cruel and unthinkable things and (2) how badly we seem to react whenever that happens. It seems like a cycle that only progresses. It would be nice if we could stop it from repeating over and over again.

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Comments on “This Week In Techdirt History: September 11th”

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CK20XX (profile) says:

I was working in the electronics department of a Wal-Mart in St. Louis, Missouri when it happened. It was the first job I had ever had, and as customers came in that morning, we started hearing stories about the twin towers. It sounded really important to me and the department manager, but the home office wouldn’t switch all the televisions hanging around the store from The Wal-Mart TV Network to the local news. The department manager and I eventually got tired of the inaction, took one of the large TV antennas we had for sale (the kind you mounted on a roof), and tried to assemble it ourselves to see if we could get our own signal. In the midst of that, the home office eventually relented and broadcast the news throughout the entire store.

I didn’t feel much of anything as I watched it. I had just graduated from high school that year with the belief that I was a fraud who would never amount to anything, and it would take years to work through that. The attack seemed to take place in a completely separate world from my own. I was pretty sure everything would turn out OK though as I worked on my own problems. I decided to leave the disaster to the people who knew how to handle it, but later learned that such responsible people only exist in Norway, apparently.

John Mayor says:


Just remove the exclamation mark for The Return, and place the URL string in your address bar, and hit enter! And frankly!… I don’t know why the mark is showing blue anyway!… it’s not a part of the URL string!
If your “concern” is other than this… sorry!… I can’t help you! Maybe you can plead your case to Mike!
Please!… no emails!

Anonymous Coward says:


It looks like you yourself may need additional background to properly read that appendix. Here you go—

RFC 5234: Augmented BNF for Syntax Specifications: ABNF

Now, going back to the ABNF in Appendix A of RFC 3986, follow along…

pchar = unreserved / pct-encoded / sub-delims / ":" / "@"

… and so on.

John Mayor says:

Re: Re:

Easier said, than done! And!… honestly!… some changes have been for the better!… but, not necessarily those that/ which have been implemented by governments (everywhere!)!
Anonymous!… I’m one of those who believes that one should hold on tight to NOW!… and– and with CONSCIENCE in tow/ at the ready!– do the very best to make my immediate world a better one! Anonymous!… don’t overreact!… and– and of course!– don’t underreact! “Steady as she goes!”… is the expression that comes to mind!
Please!… no emails!

John Mayor says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I think I get it now!… you’re trying to be funny!
The problem is, though, telling a joke using morse code is problematic!… as I’d have to learn the code, in order to get the punchline! Try a string of emoticons, instead! Or!… maybe, you can try scripting a short story!… with actual words! And don’t worry about the language!… as I can use Google translate to covert the text to the language of my choice!
And!… if you’re having problems with the English language, you can always do what the late writer Jerzey Kozinski used to do!… and that is, call up a local phone operator to clarify the expressions, and the context you’re using (see,!
Or!… maybe!… you can just stick to READING comment logs!… and rather, than offering up an ineffectual, and lame would-be and wanna-be comedic comment! And who knows!… if you read enough ACTUALLY FUNNY comment logs, some of that homour may rub off!… and people will begin to laugh! But remember!… people should be laughing WITH you!… not AT you!
Please!… no emails!

Whatever (profile) says:

First, my 9/11 story, which is quite simple: I arrived in Las Vegas about 1am or so (4am east coast) on 9/11, on a flight from New York. I got woken up by my business partner who said I probably would want to see this, and got up just in time to see the second plane hit. I got trapped in Vegas, which turned into a major ghost town. Nobody had money, nobody had a way to leave…

My opinion of the fall out of 9/11 is pretty simple: American lost it’s innocence, and now faces a long battle to come to the realization that freedom as defined in the US is both amazing and a loaded weapon. The undoing of the US will likely be as a result of someone exploiting your “freedom” to hide their activities. The surveillance and spying and what not is a weight on the other side from freedom, and hopefully some balance will come that Americans can tolerate – but that is safer.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Of course, the moment the government, law, or enforcement comes under that surveillance, Whatever starts frothing at the mouth and undergoes a crippling epileptic seizure. “I didn’t mean for everyone! I just meant for the lawbreaking citizens!” he’d blubber. “And that excludes me!”

Ninja (profile) says:

I was finishing my school cycle at the time, preparing to get to college and I had much simpler perceptions and opinions. For me it was just another day, another thing blowing up somewhere in the world but with more media coverage. Sad yes, with human lives interrupted suddenly and everything these terrorist attacks and wars cause. But yes, just another attack in a world that was slowly turning towards extremist behavior.

I still think it was just another attack with excessive media coverage. I agree with those that say the West brought it upon themselves along with what came afterwards and ISIS nowadays. And by the West I mean the Governments and their international relations. The people, Americans or not, are just the victims of the hideous system that operates in the aristocracy portion of said population. Puppets if you wish. You just need to dig a little to see how the West fed the cells that would later become Al Qaeda, ISIS through the many, many wars where the rich got richer and the people everywhere got screwed. The only thing everybody is consistently guilty of is the pre-conceptions, the prejudice, the extremism, the fundamentalism. And the West is as guilty as the terrorists of that.

It’s a sad wheel of disgrace that feeds itself and turns faster and faster until great catastrophes erupt from it. Last time it was World War II.

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