[08:52 EDT 11 Sep 2001]
[me, asleep in a reclining camp chair in a townhouse dining room]
[clamshell cellphone rings from my front pocket, waking me up]
[I may be hung over from club night – I am definitely sleep deprived]
Me: “Uh… …Hello?”
Friend: “Dude. Turn on the TV. World War III just started.”
Me: “Ugh. OK. …what channel?”
Friend: “All of them.”
I’m pretty sure I woke my housemates up at the point where I watched video of the first plane. You still couldn’t tell if it was an accident. I remember wondering if the plane had malfunctioned, because in daylight there was no way someone could fly into that bigass shiny building ’cause they didn’t see it. Newscasters weren’t entirely clear, either.
I lived with, among other folks, a complete shitbag who’d just gotten out of the Navy in August. This (extremely white) asshole started watching the news coverage with the rest of the house, but excused himself briefly. He came back in a thobe and taqiyah set he’d bought while on deployment. If memory serves, he had them on before the second plane hit at 09:03.
I gave up watching the broadcast and cable news reports pretty quickly, once it became clear that we were going to keep getting the same half-dozen shots from miles away replayed again and again. I went to my computer, logged onto IRC, and immediately employed my video sharing bots (as DivideByZero, I founded and ran #invaderzim for episode distribution) to the task of recirculating any amateur footage we could find – and before smartphones, that was comparatively sparse. Especially since cellular networks were all down in NY, and anyone who had grabbed footage with a camera phone mostly didn’t have a way to send it anywhere. But we did end up distributing a lot of videos that never made it to the news, and some things that only showed up later in documentaries – footage of the first plane, notably, and footage from the ground. I was keeping myself informed, and since I had a way to distribute that to others, I did. I couldn’t do much else from over 400 miles away.
Most of the rest of the day was spent with me coordinating file transfers and doing my best to manually aggregate all the available video records. This was all before cloud storage. Dropbox wouldn’t be conceived for another half decade. Neither would YouTube. The world was still sharing music with Audiogalaxy and Limewire – Napster had just been shut down, and torrents had only just become a thing when it did. And also? All over early DSL, when nobody could do better than like, 512 Kb/s.
The point here is, it wasn’t exactly easy to get several hundred megabytes of video from Point A to Point B in 2001.
I couldn’t tell you what my housemates were doing while I was otherwise occupied, but I’m sure they were busy preparing for the impending apocalypse. Or talking about preparing, more likely. I was 19; I don’t think any of us were over 25. Nobody had kids yet. In most ways, we were still kids. And we knew the world had changed – we just didn’t know how. We worried about the parallels to Pearl Harbor. We counted the ways we weren’t fit to be drafted, just in case. We talked about terrorism, and the geopolitical climate, and about how hot jet fuel can get, really. We watched the videos I’d collected, and speculated about WTC 7’s apparently unprompted collapse, or the strange lack of planes in the tapes of the Pentagon.
The world we got, post-9/11, wasn’t the one we were raised for. And I think, for all the “Generation Catalano” and “Generation Oregon Trail” rhetoric, this was one of the more defining factors for us liminal ones at the cusp of GenX and Millennials; the shift from liberty to security.
Watch this space for further thoughts. (I wanted to publish today, but I’m also still processing a lot of this.)