I cannot hold myself up as some sort of sage when it comes to remembering 9/11 and assessing its impact on America. I was not here. I did not experience it firsthand.
But it was an event that spread far beyond its epicenter and affected pretty much everyone on the globe. I lived in London, England at the time and first became aware that something major had happened from email exchanges between colleagues in PRWeek owner Haymarket's US and UK offices.
Work stopped as it quickly became clear this was to be a momentous day in history – tragically momentous. Everyone monitored events the best way they could: all with the jaw-dropping sense that “this can't really be happening, can it?”
Managing editor Gideon Fidelzeid is the only PRWeek staffer still with the publication from that Tuesday in 2001 and remembers hearing about the attacks on the radio before going downstairs to a bar with everyone else to follow events on TV with a mixture of concern for colleagues based close to the World Trade Center, disbelief, fear, anger, and the natural impulse of the journalist to immediately get to work on chronicling events in our publication.
The issue of PRWeek set to go to press that Thursday was immediately shelved and completely revamped to reflect the tragedy. Somehow the magazine came out on time: a small but defiant response to the terrorists.
Reading through a fantastic special double issue of New York magazine this week brought all the feelings back. The overriding emotion I came away with was one of sadness, mixed in with admiration for the heroic deeds and sacrificed lives lost that day.
These were emotions I remember seeing etched on the faces and in the faraway stares of firefighters I shared a drink with in a Manhattan bar on September 11 last year.
Looking back 10 years it is incredible how the media and social landscape has changed. In 2001, mobile phones were nowhere near as ubiquitous as they are now. Smart phones were a thing of the future. There were no social networks.
The way we would follow the story now would be so different to how we did so back then. Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare lead the way in breaking news nowadays, followed by the 24-hour broadcast news channels.
I happened to be in DC during the recent earthquake. The clear blue skies and confusion about what had happened automatically reminded many of September 11, 2001 – a day when, lest we forget, DC also suffered great loss.
Scanning the crowds of evacuated workers from city-center offices, almost everyone was focused on their mobile telephone: texting, tweeting, posting on Facebook, catching up on their loved ones and any news outlets that could keep up with the stream of real-time Twitter verbiage.
Bite-sized chunks of instant responses. Not so much the first draft of history – more the instant jottings that create a word cloud from which each user draws his or her own conclusions.
It is difficult to look at 9/11 now without the context of the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that followed, with all the continuing and significant loss of life on all sides that those entail. The world has changed. It seems a much more volatile place.
“We will never forget” was the mantra of the period following 9/11 and, undeniably, nobody will ever forget the innocent victims of that day. We can only hope that vigilance prevails and this weekend passes by peacefully. We need no more cause to remember this day for any more related atrocities.
It is wholly appropriate that the victims of the attack should be remembered. But as an outsider I also sense the nation has moved on.
The terrorists did not break the American spirit. And the fact that people want to look forward and live their lives to the full is just as much of a tribute to those who did not make it through that fateful day 10 years ago.