The Washington Post

USA 2001 vs. USA 2011

It’s Friday — time to vote for the innovator of the week. If you’re not familiar with the series, you can catch-up and vote for any of our previous match-ups. This week, the United States commemorates the 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. This time of reflection gives Americans an opportunity to look back over a 10-year period to see how they and the nation have changed for better and for worse.

In that vein, we wanted to provide an opportunity to reflect on America’s past and present over this period with a focus on innovation.

In a piece that explores “a world without 9/11,” New America Foundation’s Michael Lind outlines a parallel timeline for the United States — an America that likely would have seen cyber-attacks from China as a greater national security threat than al-Qaeda. Rather than look at what could be, we ask you to consider what has been and what is. Is the USA of 2001 more — or less — innovative than the USA of 2011?

In 2001, the United States was recovering from the dot-com bubble. Entrepreneurs were coming to terms with the fact that the days of creating an “e-company” — the purpose of which no one necessarily knew or particularly cared about — and selling it for millions were over. Pior to 9/11, we were a nation at peace — not war. Military invention, while still pursued, was not done so at the pace it is today. Time Magazine’s ”Best Inventions of 2001” featured a project code-named “Ginger” (later revealed to be the Segway), an artificial heart (the “invention of the year,” according to Time) and infra-red smoke alarms. Remember Ford’s Think Car?

In 2011, we are contending with yet another market bubble — this time in social media. We are slipping in our ability to compete globally and, as a nation, we have never been more in debt. Time’s 2010 list of the top 50 inventions (the 2011 list has yet to be released) includes an entire section dedicated to military technology, including the “Iron Man” suit. The full list features the iPad, the plastic fur coat, and a flying car. So far this year, film-thin solar panels, flooring that mimics the feeling of natural ground covers, such as sand or snow, and pen-sized printers have been invented.

Many believe that America is weaker in the ten-year aftermath, not stronger. But are we less innovative? Did the wound 9/11 left on our collective consciousness impair our ability to, at our fullest potential, explore what’s next?

Read more news and ideas on Innovations:

Ten years later, we don’t share the way we used to

Interactive | The Age of 9/11

Full coverage | Remembering 9/11 ten years later



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