In only a few days, the 20th anniversary of 9/11 will arrive. Two decades. Feels like a minute. In so many ways I think time has sped up. By a lot. Of course that’s not real. Generally, I think the illusion of accelerated pace is largely driven by technological advances. We didn’t have smart phones back in 2001. No Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, not to mention the multiple other social media platforms that now exist, which all deliver an endless news cycle, 24 hours a day. On that miserable, tragic day, I got my updates through network channels, CNN or NPR radio, along with reading the newspapers. I was home that morning, at 7:30 am central time. I had made breakfast for my son and run to take a quick shower.
The Today Show was on, the one I usually watched to get a quick take on the world before heading to work. Michael was off at college, having started his quest to add certified teacher to his political science degree. My daughter was at a volleyball retreat in northern Wisconsin, preparing for the upcoming season at her university. My son, only 14, tapped on the bathroom door to say he’d heard that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. I remember saying it was probably a terrorist attack. I finished hurriedly so I could join him. By the time I came out he was nervous, not wanting to go to school. I hustled him out the door, saying he was safe and that if I was right, the targets would have significant national symbolism. We weren’t targets. At least not back then. I also told him that regular life couldn’t stop because of events like these. He was going to school and I was going to work. Before we left our house, the second plane slammed into the south tower. I was pretty shaken but I stayed as even as I could to bolster his confidence.
After dropping him off at school, I hurried to work where my office mates and I gathered in horror around a small television, watching events unfold on network news. We didn’t have cable. Michael called me from school because he’d heard rumors about an accident in New York. My daughter called from the retreat lodge to ask what was happening. We were all using landlines for decent reception. That day was hardly a simpler time, nor was it a slow-paced time. But what felt different was that terrorism was an identifiable threat, associated with those who had major issues, at least with western governments. These days, the world of bad actors seems to have exploded exponentially and anonymously, as technological development continues its constant evolution. And the targets are just anyone who’s vulnerable. Not just political axes to grind. Greed and and simple criminal behavior have been added to the terror mix.
Every day a relentless assault by untold numbers of crooks, con artists, scammers, trolls, bots and sources I can’t name, cascades through your technological life. I realized the other day that fending off these hostile intrusions is taking up a ridiculous amount of my time. Now I’m no luddite, one of those people who reject technology, choosing to be a non-participant in this digital morass of a world. I do worry about too much screen time for kids, short attention spans and people who prefer to read paragraphs rather than books. But I am keenly aware of the benefits of being plugged in and so far, those benefits outweigh the drawbacks. However the drawbacks are piling up rapidly. Yesterday the spam-blocker I installed on my phone weeded out 17 calls. Only one or two callers left messages, which were intended to make me afraid about something financial. I get text messages now too, along with phony phishing emails. I’m pretty careful about opening anything and have downloaded a VPN program so I can alter my IP address whenever I choose. How pathetic is it that I’m turning my phone and computer into mini-fortresses to protect myself from the scammers? Pretty sad.
In addition to the people doing the illegitimate theft attacks, we have the mysterious algorithms embedded in seemingly every software program used by the average user. Recently I realized that my Facebook feed had become nothing but a platform for advertising. I barely see posts from friends. I thought I’d applied every privacy setting I could, but apparently I left a gap big enough to be exploited by the ever-eager hawkers of streaming services, clothes, shoes, and even intellectual property. My emails are full of ads too. Daily I dump phishing emails into my junk and spam folders, including ones that seem to be from a bank or the government, occasionally scrutinizing them carefully as often they look so real, I hesitate before deleting them. Those are from people who want to steal your money, your identity or both. I’m sorry to say that I’ve already had the miserable experience of digging my way out of both those unexpected assaults. To preclude them ever happening again I’ve made it almost impossible for anyone, including me, to access any credit. I’m not naive enough to think that dastardly scams are a new phenomenon. I just think that technology has given slick swindlers a huge anonymous platform with which to ply their sleazy trade.
I guess I’m grateful that I still have the mental capacity to work my way through all the seamy parts of this world. I worry for the innocents out there who are sitting ducks for those cynical crooks who make their way through life by taking advantage of others. I’m lucky to have awareness. But lately it’s simultaneously the proverbial gift and curse. The past two decades have released a torrent of challenges for me and everyone else. I’ve tried to keep up with what’s going on in the macrocosm as well as in the microcosm of my little life. I think it’s fair to say that I’m pretty jaded about the state of humanity, or perhaps rather, the lack there of. By nature I’d say I’m a realist with a strong streak of pessimism. I don’t have a lot of confidence that a significant number of my fellow US citizens will ever see life as I see it. And to be frank, I don’t have any patience left for those whose ideas make no sense. They have no fealty to the public good, but rather consistently put themselves first, regardless of the fact that they believe lies and most especially, are willing to put people at risk of death in order to proclaim their freedom. They’re willing to risk even innocent children, who have no protection from Covid except the safety of being with people who are vaccinated. I don’t think they understand that the current surge falls squarely on those who aren’t vaccinated and won’t wear masks. Their stubborn adherence to their “individual freedoms” are placing huge burdens on their communities, their families and friends, and their medical support systems. As incomprehensible as that seems, what I know is that the daily spread of false information by our technology and our social platforms has created societal chasms that are unlikely to be mended. The additional drawback to technology is that it accelerates the spread of the divisive, poisonous calumny that threatens public health.
Sometimes a step back from this relentless assaulting technology tsunami is mandatory. I turn to nature, although admittedly, alarm about climate change is rarely far from my mind. Still, I have to do what I can. Aside from being available for my family and friends, I can work on my little corner of the planet, to provide as much sustenance and safety for the other creatures with whom we share this vulnerable blue ball. I feel more settled and calm when I’m outside, watching the lives even smaller than mine, unfolding in front of me as they go about their business. On my little hiatus from the grind of foiling predators, eliminating hawkers of lies and unnecessary garbage, the photos to follow were the healthier options I chose instead of screen time. I hope you enjoy them.