On this day eleven years ago, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube did not exist.
People did not take videos with their iPhones and share them on the Internet, and people did not check in with their current geolocation on the morning of that day. Photos did not come with Instagram filters. In fact, the photos from 9/11 were so raw, emotional and terrifying precisely because they were so un-filtered.
Many of the social media tools that we take for granted today to help us create community, conversation and catharsis were, at best, vague ideas in 2001. In the eleven years since 9/11, the Web has become the place that a vast number of people turn to in moments of distress and grief — whether it is natural acts of terrorism from Mother Nature or unnatural acts of terrorism from our fellow brothers. This means that the Web has also taken on the additional responsibility of helping us all to remember better.
This is a point that many of us take for granted. We live in an ephemeral age, where the average half-life of a tweet is seconds or minutes, not days, weeks or months. We check our digital devices for updates so often that, by the end of the day, it sometimes seems as if the news cycle has spun out of control, with so many narratives and 140-character subplots. The demands on our time sometimes appear so great that our focus on causes that truly deserve our time and attention sometimes only get a fraction of that time and attention — if any. It is easier to change the color of our avatar for a day or sign an Internet petition than it is to actually make a meaningful contribution.
In the digital age, how we remember is just as important as what we remember. Social media has a role not just in creating a real-time narrative of our lives, but also in preserving our ”Remembrance of Things Past”. And it doesn’t require a lot of Internet savvy to make it a reality. For example, on 9/11 this year, for the first time ever, the New York Police Department is memorializing the roles played by its brave heroes on 9/11 via social media. Once an hour until the start of the 11th anniversary ceremony, the NYPD will be remembering one of its Fallen via Twitter, @NYPDnews. The tweets are simple yet profound — a name, a link to the NYPD’s Facebook memorial page for a photo and description of the role played on 9/11, an “end of Tour” date, and the hashtag #neverforget. It is the social media equivalent of the roll call given at the site of the former Twin Towers every year in New York, but with a new permanence that the Web makes possible.
For those who are unable to attend any of the events held across the nation to remember the victims of 9/11, there are other ways that the Web can help us remember. The 9/11 Memorial now has a Google+ page with over 57,500 members, as well as a @Sept11memorial Twitter account with over 18,000 followers. Across the nation, people are using the Twitter hashtag #honor911 to document the ways that they are choosing to remember 9/11.
The Web should not be about forgetting faster, it should be about remembering better. For the young men and women across the nation who recently graduated from high school and college this spring, the events of 9/11 may only be a vague recollection, rather than something that — for the rest of us — is seared into our collective national consciousness, wherever we happened to be that day. As the most wired generation, as the true digital natives, it is now their responsibility to use the Web to continue to pass along these memories to their children, to ensure that a memorial to the fallen will continue to exist, so that our nation will #neverforget.
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