I was in the environs of One World Trade Center on Saturday. Several relations of mine wanted to experience the building’s observation deck, which is 1,368 feet in the air. An antennae’s further reach puts the building’s height at the historically significant 1,776 feet. I briefly considered joining them, but a lengthy line of ticket-holding tourists patiently waiting to walk on high made the decision for me.
Instead of the ascent into the heavens, I walked a few blocks west to the harbor. It was a hot, humid, and hazy afternoon, but there was a cool breeze coming off the water—an authentic sea breeze. I’m old enough to remember when the scents wafting in the ether alongside the Hudson River and New York Harbor were less than pleasant. Now, the same waters are considered clean enough to swim in—some of the time, anyway. Lady Liberty has been there in good odors and bad. I visited Liberty Island once—possibly twice—as a youth and climbed the statue to its torch. Did the Empire State Building thing as a boy, too, but recall very little about it. And unless you count shopping in a Borders bookstore on one of the tower’s ground floor, I was never inside either of the Twin Towers.
It’s hard to believe that the sixteenth anniversary of 9/11 is less than two months away. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, a common refrain was heard: “We will never be the same.” After all, how could we be? For a short period of time that sentiment didn’t seem so far-fetched. We Americans had come together as never before—or so it appeared. Well, that was then and this is now. While it’s true that we aren’t the same as we were on 9/10/2001, I don’t think the nature of our different perspectives is what we had in mind sixteen years ago. We were supposed to be less partisan and more cognizant of life’s fragility. We were supposed to behave as if we were all in this thing together and appreciate what we have in common. We weren’t going to sweat the small things anymore. Needless to say, we haven’t quite evolved that much. But then we were probably foolish to think we could. In fact, we’ve devolved. Exhibit A: Donald Trump’s address to the 2017 National Scout Jamboree. “Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts?” the man began. And it was downhill after that.
Social media didn’t exist in 2001. Thank god for that! I can’t imagine what the Facebook posts and Twitter tweets would have been like in the days, weeks, and months after 9/11. Actually, I can. It’s no stretch to say that social media forums are contributing mightily to our ongoing decline as an intelligent life form. Exhibit B: a video uploaded to Facebook of teenagers watching a drowning man and laughing at the spectacle. They didn’t report the incident to the local police, who learned of the video's existence days later. The dead man had been reported missing. This sort of thing is an everyday occurrence now. And then there are the ubiquitous trolls. They are omnipresent online, a constant reminder of society’s growing crassness, ignorance, and indifference. I no longer wonder who these people are in the bright light of day. After all, I have an account on Facebook. I know some of the trolls by name and by reputation. Go to the bank on it: We will never be the same.
(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)