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.