My son told me they read a study about the unreliability of memory in his psychology class. He said people who were at the World Trade Center when the Twin Towers fell reported they learned about the towers falling from television.
I asked him what is unreliable about that? I told him even though the first tower literally fell on me, I thought a bomb had been dropped. I was completely covered in dust and no one thought I had mental capacity to know more about what had happened. I didn’t learn that the towers fell until the evening of September 11. I didn’t learn about it on TV only because I had gauze covering my eyes and someone had to tell me what happened.
“So,” I said, “Tell your teacher that’s dumb, and tell them that every person learned what happened from TV because because the event was so apocryphal — we totally couldn’t comprehend it without being told a number of times, by very trusted sources — that it actually happened.”
It’s hard for my son to imagine everyone around the world trusting a single source at the same time. When my kids heard about how the the OJ car chase happened on TV, they laughed.
My oldest said “How is this not the biggest meme event in history.”
Their sense of collective conscience is memes — which are a shared canvas, posted asynchronously — it’s a shared experience that does not pause for time zones.
My first memory is when I was two-and-a-half years old and we watched the moon landing. I remember me and my mom and dad and my baby brother sitting in our living room, three feet away from the television. Now I know everyone watched men landing on the moon in a similar way that everyone will watch the Queen’s funeral.
The Queen has been the Queen for so long that she embodies the 20th century the way a moon landing does. It’s not just that she was a mechanic in World War II or that she took the monarchy through the Information Age. Even her perceived shortcomings — like focusing on her work over raising children — seems pretty 20th century in hindsight.
It always felt odd to me that people said 9/11 marked the beginning of the 21st century. I wasn’t ready. I was still waiting for Gen X to wield the workplace power Baby Boomers had. And what about Gen X becoming cultural icons? I thought surely that had to happen before we entered a new era.
That did happen. For like five seconds. But now it’s clear that Gen X will have no more big moments, and the Queen’s death marks the end of the 20th century. It is fitting that the two things that bridge one century to the other are both mass media events.
Children today have no memory of a mass media event. They were too young. But Queen Elizabeth’s funeral is their chance to experience what it was like to live in the 20th century and do something at the exact same time as everybody else.
I was thinking that these days we have so few common experiences. The benefits of diversity are clear, and I don’t want to have white male hegemony (and a female figurehead to celebrate it). But I do want us to have a sense of shared space and community. And we don’t have that.
I don’t have that myself because everyone in my life has relocated for jobs so many times. And cities used to act as communities but they are losing their draw as companies become more and more remote.
The shared space online is also missing. The internet used to be full of quirky little communities that were treasures to find. And our inboxes used to be intimate places for people we knew. But now all content is optimized to convert and get our clicks.
I remember a quote from the quintessential 20th century novel The Great Gatsby. And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy. The internet is like a large party, but no one is going any more. Maybe I will stop putting the whole post in the email because I want you to come to the site.
It feels so personal to come to a singular little site. It’s a place that is not your inbox. And it’s not a separate app on your phone. It’s meeting up in a big, busy party. The Great Gatsby was a given on the 20th century high school reading list because never being satisfied was a given of what it meant to be an adult.
If there’s one theme that comes up every year on 9/11 it’s my urge to take joy in whatever it is I have, right here, right now, because I know how easily it could all be taken away. In this new century, where long-term communities with shared experience are so meaningful and yet so rare — we’re lucky to have each other.