Saturday, September 11, 2021

don't panic

So I already wrote that I didn't think 9/11 fundamentally changed my perception of the world. "We'd long been vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Even people who read Tom Clancy novels would have known that. The WTC had actually been attacked once before. There was reason to respond, but absolutely no need to rewrite our foreign policy."

Now comes a post by Matthew Yglesias explaining why it did. "I think the thing about the event that’s hard to understand if you didn’t live through it is how much everyone changed their subjective assessment of the likely of major terrorist attacks. The earlier World Trade Center bombing had happened, the US embassy bombings had happened, we had movies about terrorists, it’s not like it was some unknown thing — but it wasn’t live."

So I guess that gives the explanation of why I wasn't "everyone" - or, if you take his formulation literally, anyone. I didn't watch it on television. I told you: I'd given up watching TV news, even for breaking events. Talking heads yammering away endlessly, filling in the long gaps between new information by endlessly recapping what they'd already said. Who needs this when you've got the web? If something dramatically newsworthy happens, I open a browser tab to a reliable news source, and then go about my other work on the computer. Every half hour or so - new info doesn't filter in much faster than that - I pop over to the tab, hit "refresh," and see if anything has been added.

Embedded film clips were rare on the web then, and I never actually saw film of the planes hitting the towers until Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 came out three years later.

Maybe this is responsible for my more sober reaction (even Yglesias admits that he had been "caught up in what looks, in retrospect, like a kind of hysteria and I was wrong"), or maybe a more sober approach is why I chose this method of absorbing the news.

(Also, the towers had already collapsed by the time I got to work and started following the news - that happened at around 7 AM Pacific time. Perhaps time zones also affected my reaction?)

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