How 9/11 sculpted our view of the world
(Photo: from the funeral of my first friend to die in Iraq, Nick Bloem)
More things than just technology have impacted our world view. I remember September 11th, 2001. It was about 7am, and I was sitting on my floor, I had a indigo blue iMac, but no desk in my room to put it on, so I was sitting on my floor playing with Limewire trying to download the Gladiator soundtrack. I heard my dad come out of his room, make a pot of coffee, then turn on the TV. I never heard him swear. My door opened to a hallway balcony above the living room below, so I could hear what was happening. The vague heard the anchorwoman say that the a plane hit the second tower. I heard my dad’s coffee hit the ceramic coaster, and he quietly said “oh my god.” As I watched the events of that day unfold, I knew it would change the world. At first I felt anger, I wanted to go to war. I wanted to fight in that war myself. Many of my friends did, and died in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The biggest surprise though was that that day sculpted our world view as Millennials. came of age. Most of us had no idea what the difference was between a Muslim, Hindu and a Seek. What started as fear, led over the next several years to be an understanding that our neighborhoods, or cities were not the center of the universe. The world was full of people of different background and beliefs. But technology made them accessible, beyond the newspaper or even a flight. Suddenly we could talk with them, we could interact with people on the other side of the world and see their Facebook updates. Fear turned to sympathy, accessibility and in a large part to understanding that we live in a world where we all can make a difference and interact directly with people. Technology made these people on the far side of the world we would have in a different time through of as enemies, if the only images we could see were characterized by mass media. Through social media, we realized they were humans just like us.
We are more socially and globally aware than any generation before us. Social understanding is not just the responsible thing, for many it’s vital. It’s a part of life in a reality in which borders no longer exist.
Just like the introduction of technology has a massive impact on psychological and sociological development, the minds of Millennials have been completely shaped by the geopolitical landscape of the post-9/11 world. While nearly all of us have very specific memories of the day itself, what is more impactful is the evolving world after the fact. For the first time saw not only unilateral acts such as the work in Iraq, but we could also see and interact with the immediate fallout from behind the scenes on both sides of war. Where our parents experienced the Cold War in its height, our childhood was haunted by something that didn’t have an iron curtain to hide and mystify it. Our world is shaped by the war on terror, as we try to come to grips with the causes of extremism, and seek reconciliation that does not by nature rely first and foremost on unilateral military action, but first on diversified grass roots movements that even leveraged technology to produce a new kind of activist generation.
Our place in the world
- Innocence lost: September 11th, 2001 marked one of the the biggest cultural changes in human understanding of war. Never before had any country been attacked at it’s core by something that was not a national army, but an idea. The reaction to which took several years to digest especially for the young Millennials who share a universal collective experience, that defined their view of the world. Unlike boomers and Gen X, who saw the Cold War, idealized america, and saw themselves as victorious after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall. Millennials, having little or no recollection of these events find themselves in an unstable world where we recognize that America is not the unilateral superpower that controls the world. While we may have through that, at the outset of our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, it wasn’t long before we realized that despite waging the longest war in American history, using the largest military budget the world has ever seen, it does not greatly impact our security, or status in the world, when asserted by force. The lesson most Millennials have taken away now after years of war, is humility. Anger and confusion fueled aggressive nationalism, and war. War as we have seen fester, when the real enemy is poverty, ignorance, that is directly caused by the aggressors. We’ve come to recognize that not only is the world not a utopia, but also that America is not perfect union. With the rise of communication, citizen journalists, social media, inexpensive user generated media production have allowed for volumes of work to be produced that has show us that our world is not black and white, good and evil. With youtube allowing for easy access to see a diversity of opinions, the general mentality of Millennials is that the world is extremely complex. This is even reflected in the change of our mainstream media. Heros, are never riding a white horse, but they are flawed, and have dark sides. Every good person may have a dark past that causes good intentions to have unintended side effects. Our art is reflecting this in every medium, from film to music, and especially literature. One thing of note is that despite all of this, Millennials have proven to be resilient, continually believing that resolutions can be made, and that better understanding others is the key to living in a better world.
- Technology-fueled understanding was a necessary coping mechanism: for people to be able to process and understand what happened and why was the greatest tool in the post-9/11 world. Technology that allowed unrestricted access to people in every part of the world and in every language. This need to process and understand would be part of any psychological recovery of a child who had something traumatic happen to them. We see this though on a global level in Millennials. In addition to technology being the tool of choice for this therapy, an explosion in desire to understand the people, ideas and factors that caused and resulted from September 11th, surged on all fronts including the more quantifiably traditional portal of education. The following is from the Center for American Progress report titled “The 9/11 Generation” published for the ten year remembrance of the events:
“Fear or anger hasn’t sent the Millennial generation into seclusion, despite the fact many Millennials believe that the U.S. is no longer globally respected. In fact, Millennials, in spite of or in response to the 9/11 attacks, are more eager than our predecessors to engage with other cultures first hand and some have embraced opportunities to be a more global generation. Nick, age 26, felt 9/11 was the catalyst that incorporated the generation into a global society. “It’s the event that connected us to the rest of the world…We learned to look at ourselves differently as an actor on the world’s stage, and not just as an individual nation….Millennials are reaching out to cultures abroad. More Millennials study abroad compared to previous generations and interest in nontraditional destinations has grown as more students study outside of Western Europe. In only the first academic year following 9/11, participation in abroad programs jumped 8.8 percent. Although many expected study abroad participation to Islamic countries to drop after 9/11, enrollment rose 127 percent from 2002 to 2006, according to studies from the Institute of International Education…The study of religion has increased 22 percent in the last decade, according to the American Academy of Religion. Similar increases have occurred in the number and diversity of religion-related degrees offered. Between 2000 and 2005 alone, the number of college courses on Islam and Hinduism nearly doubled. Religion departments have expanded across the country from University of Texas to Ohio State and Georgia State.” This has a remarkable impact on consuming habits and is likely the primary reason for the this generation’s firm belief in aligning consumerism with doing global good, including all cause based businesses, as well as respect for all businesses that include education, or helping to solve direct problems, as one of their core values.
- Our perspective of our place in the world has shifted: It was almost like we discovered there was life on other planets. Perhaps the most pronounced change has been in our view of ourselves in relation to the world with regard to national identity. Indiana Jones will forever be one of my favorite movie franchises. The line where Marian was being kidnapped in Egypt, and shouted “You can’t do this to me, I am an American.” is one of those lines that defined the sense of entitlement I believe that our generation had in the 90s. For the most part we believe that we were invulnerable, like Roman citizens. In the TV series The West Wing, President Bartlet, played by Martin Sheen, summarizes it as follows: ”Did you know that two thousand years ago a Roman citizen could walk across the face of the known world free of the fear of molestation? He could walk across the Earth unharmed, cloaked only in the protection of the words civis Romanus — I am a Roman citizen. So great was the retribution of Rome, universally understood as certain, should any harm befall even one of its citizens.“ That is no longer the view we have of our citizenship, or of our place in the world. Decisions we make without other nations rarely turn out well, and value in understanding other nations, their cultures, and history is now understood to be crucial to cooperation and progress. The age of the belligerent and entitled Americans is mercifully, thankfully, over. We have a responsibility to be citizens of the world. This means unlike the ‘90s, where the export of American ideas and businesses was the prevailing trends, in the new Millennium, it is the equal exchange of ideas, to balance the scales caused by the dominance of American culture in the second half of the 20th century. Millennials are more likely to be influenced by the ideas of people from other countries, and be able to collaborate in real time with them. The second phase that follows understanding of other cultures is normally the assimilation of ideas, tools and resources, that is far more equitable than what was experienced by outsourced production that we saw in the late ‘90s.
- We believe in believing: Other generations may view changes in the 2000s as sad or scary. Millennials are generally not afraid, or discouraged. We’ve learned that if you can imagine a better world, or a better way of doing things, we actually have the individual power to make a difference. Sometimes that is by contributing to spread awareness for a cause like ALS, or by helping to fund a great new idea on Kickstarter, or perhaps by creating a tutorial. We live in a wiki generation. The idea that the sum is greater than its parts, and the concept of the crowd is something we are very comfortable with, allowing us to be able to quickly form communities with a purpose and make real impact when working together. The binding element typically are fun, exciting, or noble ideas.
- We believe in taking action: Activism is a common theme in Millennials. Social media assists in the gathering of individuals to accomplish a goal in reality. In 2008 during the economic decline, corruption and duplicity became obvious. Social media assisted not only in educating people about problems, and how they occurred, but also allowed people to decide to do something about it. One of the most visible parts of this was the occupy movement. While controversial at the time and today. We understand that there are limits to the digital world, and there is a point where we have to stop just talking, tweeting, writing, or vlogging about an issues, but at some point steps have to be taken. For the vast majority of digital residents this may mean joining in a protest, or an event. However, the hacktivist group Anonymous and groups like it will continue to be influential into the future not just for movements that they and similar groups of online actives will spawn in the future, but also for the direct action they take online. While the real ability of any non-governmental group to unilaterally effect political change at any level is currently limited, it is likely that the participate in the democratic process will be digitalized more and more. Anonymous, is bar far a controversial and morally questionable example, being essentially nameless cyber vigilantes, with the ability to do great harm, or in some case great good, however, because Millennials do not see the line between the cyber world and the real world, nearly all political action in the future will be organized online first before it translates into events. The stories of the protests and events will be instantly broadcasts, and seen by millions of people, thus greatly augmenting the power of the people on the streets. This same mentality is become more and more true outside the political world, and bleed it’s say into all events, including concerts, festivals, parties, and even conferences. The organization, recording of, and follow up will follow the same model that was laid out by political movements that we’ve seen arise over the past several years. The first key element is that the people have to first have a branded have a brand that they can rally behind. one of the generous pieces of the both the occupy movement as well as the tea party movement is the fact that they are movements that have distinct value sets, and clear messages . The second determining factor is that they had community leaders that invited their circles and their circles’ circles to participate, with a clear call to action. This can be done at any level for anything that appeals to the demographic, because ultimately the internet and social media is a tool for community participate. These models have been pioneered and tested organically, and can be harnessed by anyone with the right message, and expertise to gather people to act for anything, whether that be special interests, fun events, or political causes.
- We hold the freedom of speech as the most valuable freedom: One of the most noticeable reactions to the compounding effect of social/political attitudes of the Millennials post 9/11, is that they have developed a sense of their right to voice their opinions and the right to listen to others. The Green movement of the Arab Spring was one of the first case studies we were able to witness a social media fueled political reaction to an attempt at censorship. The result was that Hacktivist group Anonymous took it upon themselves to break into the Iranian internet system and jailbreak their internet for users to be able to access social networks and voice their opinions despite government crackdowns. Even when terrorists try to bully people with fear the reaction is the same. In the wake of The Charlie Hebdo shooting in 2014, the reaction was starkly different to that of previous terrorist attacks. Along similar lines to Boston Strong, people have matured in their use of social media and gaining the ability to quickly stand against fear and intimidation in defense of their most basic rights. For Millennials, it seems that the most unanimously highest heald value is not privacy, the right to bear arms, churches of state, privacy or rules of martial law, but rather in the digital age of communication the most cherished right of our generation is the freedom of speech. To this extent the greatest crime that could be perceived by the Millennial generation is the silence them. Whether that is deleting a legitimate bad review, or filtering their YouTube video, or favoring certain content over others. We believe we have the right to say what we think, and to communicate with others.
What is not affecting consumer behavior: Exchange of freedoms (Google and the NSA) privacy for freedom and higher quality of life. Thomas Hobbes wrote Leviathan in 1646, It is the foundational work on the understanding of political power, and explored the origins the rights of any government. His conclusion was that Kings did not derive their power from God, as was presumed in the middle ages, but rather people were born free to do as they wanted. However, as they moved into societies they opted to have governments and kings over them to protect them, and in siding sacrificed certain rights that were considered “natural rights.” in order to reap the benefits of living in a society with other people, such as security, stable economy, trade, and community. It should be noted that Millennials are undergoing a similar semi-consensual exchange of certain rights as well in order to safely and productively live in a digitalize world. It might be said that we are willing to trade certain rights to government organizations like the NSA for protection, and to Google for improved quality of life and services. The chief among things that we are willing to sacrifice as a generation is our right to privacy. We fully recognize that in using the itunes, we consent to apple collecting our information. Google will follow us to learn who we are and what we like in order to give us ads that are relevant to us, and search results that are what we are looking for. We expect that in exchange for the loss of privacy we will get in return a better experience. We also know and understand that the NSA is actively monitoring our communication to protect our safety and security. We understand that we are sacrificing this freedom in order to (hopefully) be safe. While we may not trust the government implicitly, this trade off does seem to be better than the alternative, which we never want to repeat again. We are a generation that was born of the patriot act. We were not surprised by the revelations of Wikileaks, or Edward Snowden. In fact they are our heroes. At the very least if we are going to be sacrificing our freedoms, and if our information is going to be used to “protect” or “better serve” us, we still demand the right to know how, and why, and maintain the right to voice our opinions on it, and reveal any insight or knowledge we have regarding it. This is the great check and balance of our age.by