Reflecting on 9/11 twenty years later and looking forward

September 10, 2021

Like most of us, I remember the exact moment the events of 9/11 started to unfold. Katie Couric said something about a commuter plane hitting the World Trade Center. I thought nothing of it. I had a plane to catch to Washington D.C. I continued to pack, careful to think things through because after D.C. I had a late afternoon meeting in New York. Then the second plane hit. Clearly, the world was changing.

That morning I did not head to the airport. Instead, I drove to the office and sent everyone home. I wished I could find the email I wrote, but it went something like, “Please head home to be with your families. We’ll open back up when it makes sense to do so. Right now, I want you to be with your families. The world has changed.”

After everyone left, I manned the telephones. At that point in my life every television station in the U.S. was a customer, plus DirecTV, DISH, ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC and a million consumers.  Suffice it to say, on any given day, our phone was lit up for hours on end. That day, however, it never rang once. The world had changed.

There is nothing, and I mean nothing, more important than family

Today, as I write this, I cannot help but think of two things; First, I am forever grateful to my son Jax, now 20, for his 9-month-old self-keeping me home the morning of 9/11. Having missed seeing him the night before, on the morning of 9/11 I delayed my flight to D.C. to spend time with him from the 6 A.M. to the 9 A.M. As it turned out, my original flight landed in Kentucky, having been ordered to land immediately as the world changed. So, strangely, at 9 months of age, it was Jax who made sure I was home on that fateful day. Home with my family.

Second, because my brain simply is hard-wired this way, I think about how technology has changed the world – for better and worse – since 9/11. Perhaps more importantly, I think about how technology can shape our lives for the better going forward. It can, and it should, but we need to break it down to its simplest form; 24/7, real-time, connectivity. Constant communication.

Picture this. The Internet is nothing more than when you played telephone as a kid with tin cans and string. Remember that?

Regardless of how you feel about him, or his presidency, without the Internet, Donald Trump never becomes president. Ironically, neither does a freshman senator named Barack Obama who back in 2012 tapped into the young, early technology adopters eager to hear a new message delivered in real-time on the device in their hands. Because the device in their hands was so personal, they instantly belonged to something bigger than themselves.

Both presidents 44 and 45 expertly used the power of connectivity. If you think about it, it is all just communication, communication on steroids because of connectivity. I mean, all Twitter really is, is a way for anyone to say to anyone, if you want to hear what I have to say, then follow me. And the minute you click follow, you belong. And belonging, really, is all any of us want. Human nature.

Might the connectivity we have today prevented the attacks of 9/11? Maybe. Might it prevent a similar calamity in the future? It should, but we must use it the right way. We must use the tools we have to connect to and have never-ending dialogs with the rest of the world. Given how easy it is to be connected, we should never hear the venerable line from the movie Cool Hand Luke, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

Connectivity, used for a higher purpose, is now and will continue to change the world

It must. But there needs to be a way to filter out the crap. Take me for example: I am pro-vaccine. I am pro-choice. I am embarrassed by Trump. I firmly support the LGBTQ community. So, I must be a democrat and way far left, right? Wrong. I am a Republican. You see, if you knew only my stances on important issues, you would form an opinion just on those things you now know. The reality is that I cry during movies like Terms of Endearment and Kramer v. Kramer. I work too much and have spent way too much time away from my family. Still, you can have no more loyal a friend than me. One of the people I love most in the world is anti-vax and pro-Trump.  

The fact we are all connected, means we can all get to know each other better

For the world to change for the better, going forward both technology and people need to be better. We need to use the tools we have to dig deeper, to find the truth in all that is around us. We need to be civil and respect our differences. We need to respect each other. We need to care about each other.

On the technical side, there is a huge opportunity to develop something for the good of mankind. When we hear something, true or false, we cannot unhear it. That has created a problem today and it impacts much of humanity. Technology can solve for this. Misinformation can and should be identified BEFORE we consume it. Connectivity, the same connectivity that has done so much good, is the same connectivity that has done so much bad by spreading misinformation. We need to fix that now.

So, on this eve of the 20-year anniversary of 9/11, my message is simple: Take a breath. Check that. Take two breaths. Think twice about what you are about to say, or write, or post. Think twice about what you read. Respect those who may have differing opinions to your own. Be humble. Technology, I believe, will catch up. And, who knows? Maybe that will start a movement that will change the world.