I like to categorise age by the September 11 attacks.
It sounds incredibly strange, but to me, 9/11 marks a fundamental shift in how we experience our lives.
I’m at the age where the term “young man” no longer quite applies. To be perfectly frank, if you forgive this momentary ego stroke, if I had completed my enlistment many years ago, I would be a career soldier now, at the peak of my war-fighting abilities and prowess, with quite a few deployments under my belt.
As far as reality is concerned though, I am actually quite close to my peak events operational capabilities. I can almost do every single aspect of event labour, from ropes management to marquee set-ups and about 100 useful other tips and tricks to apply to any event I work at.
I am quite easily, the most experienced events operator at almost any festivities I find myself working at. Marathons, Festivals, Shows, Raves …. there’s almost no situation where I am not useful.
I suppose the point I am trying to make here, is that I am more or less at the top of my game. Which is exactly where I want to be close to the age of 30.
They say it is lonely at the top, and that is scarily accurate when you meet people who are younger than you.
It just seems so strange to me, meeting people who have never experienced the world-axis event that was 9/11.
The world before 9/11 was a much more trusting one. Entertainment was lighter, more colourful and fun. People were less paranoid, less interested in the nitty-gritty of the world and much more trusting. Growing up in the 90s, its also difficult for me to reconcile the quantum leap in technology that has happened in less than 2 decades of existence.
I remember rewinding VHS tapes, seeing pixels animate themselves on the Nintendo 64 and being fascinated with Pokemon cards during lunch breaks. Lego was cheaper, more imaginative, because as a child, I had no interest in keeping sets confined to their instructed sets … I was too busy breaking them apart to make my own things, forging epic battles between ninjas, Jedis, Siths, terrorists and dinosaur SWAT units to care.
The world seemed a bit brighter back then.
Then 9/11 happened and everything became a lot darker. The world became more paranoid, films started to become more grey, airports were now security havens and in general, instead of a positive go-getter attitude that once defined the 90s, the early 00s became more nihilistic. A sensation that has only grown exponentially with the creation of the internet.
In fact, I would argue, that the moment those Twin Towers fell, something inside humanity snapped.
Whether we liked it or not, America at the time, was considered the greatest place to live on Earth. Everyone, in some shape or form, believed in the purity of the “American Dream.” That if you worked hard enough, you would earn your success and buy that picket-fence house.
However, to see America struck so deeply and painfully, dispelled the allure of that dream. It was like the shells from our eyes had fallen away and we were no longer enamoured with the incredible mythology that surrounded America.
Instead, all we were left with was the knowledge that if the mightiest of us can fall … so can we all.
It’s why I pity every single child that has been born post 9/11. They never had an idea of a life that was a lot simpler and less complicated.
The world post 9/11 is a much more traumatised one. We no longer had an ideal to aspire to. In place of inspiration, came politics, which is simply code for division.
Films, music, art, news … everything became a lot more politicised. People scrutinised everything more. The advent of the internet meant that 24/7 news cycles became a lot more pessimistic and harsh. Soon, you weren’t just aware of the tragedies in your own country, you also had to know about the geopolitical situation in a country 12,000 kilometres away from you.
Films, once escapist and fantastical, soon started leaning into grittier, more “realistic” themes. Stories about the government betraying its own people, secretive intelligence programs and whistleblowers started to appear, sowing more distrust in the government and its agenda. Action sequences, once grand and epic, became more scaled down to realistic, tense firefights that showed the “one-man army” approach in a more tactical manner.
Music, got angrier and more heavily politicised, with angry lyrics decrying governments for their actions abroad and domestically. Art followed a similar vein.
What all of this has invariably led to, is a deconstruction of what your country is and how people identify themselves.
It’s not enough to just be an American any more. Now, you need to be an ally of a movement, a political supporter, a pronoun and an activist of some cause.
Imagine being born into this world, where all of this is the norm. You feel enormous pressure to fulfill all of these duties, or else you become a shit person. You can identify as as variant in all of these things, but because they exist only online, they also mean nothing. Everything online is an exercise in nihilism. Your identity, work, personality and careful curatorship of what you like and don’t like, is as unimportant as the next person’s persona.
In becoming all of these things, you just become another byte of data for the algorithm to manipulate and feed.
People who were born after 9/11 have no concept of a reality where none of these terrible things exist.
It really shows. They act seemingly older than their years, because they’ve exposed to a lot more horrible things than people my age were, when we were younger.
I’ve noted that children and people who were raised in a post 9/11 world tend to be diametrically different to people in my age bracket.
In the sense that, they tend to act a bit older than their years and they try a lot harder in general. They care more about certain causes, but ironically because of the internet, can only do so in the most shallow of manners. They will be the first to change their profile pictures, the first to lambast you on the internet for your views and start a hashtag trend going.
They’re also characterised by poor memories, shorter attention spans, less engagement in the long haul and more easily distracted. Throw in additional unnecessary trauma merely for existing and a perchance for overcommitting to things and poorly communicating their subsequent cock-up and you got yourself a typical post-9/11 baby.
I naturally blame the internet, but also how a post 9/11 world has shaped the internet and its’ anarchy.
Because 9/11 truly changed the way how humanity thought, fought and now lives.
It’s just strange for me, meeting people who have no context outside this reality, that to them, the 90s was an historical decade that never existed for them.
They only know this twisted, heavily politicised and strenuous time.
Deep down, I pity them all. If only they had some idea of what life might have been like, when the world was a more hopeful place, they wouldn’t be as confused as they are now.
But then, on the other side, their optimism can be boundless, because to them, a more accepting and hopeful future is coming soon.
Unlike the cynic in me, who whinges about what was lost.
Hindsight truly is a curse.
Better to be blindly hopeful and work towards that aspiration than to be unbelieving that anything good will occur in the future.
Because at the end of the day, hope for a better future is what might create change.
I suppose my role, as an older guy, is to make sure that change is actually a good one.