On this 10-year anniversary of 9/11, Aaron Gordon asks that you resist the temptation just to say something and actually do something.
Social networking has changed the way we communicate, mostly for the better. Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist in 2001 (doesn’t that make 9/11 seem much more than a decade ago?), and it’s astounding to imagine how differently that day might have unfolded. The whole world would have known about the catastrophe within minutes, including people on airplanes. Skyscrapers across the world would have emptied much sooner. It’s easy to imagine scenarios where lives were saved, and conversely, where panic led to chaos.
We can entertain all these scenarios because social media has allowed conversations to take place faster. I type a sentence once, and all my friends—even a lot of people I wouldn’t call friends—can read it instantly. It’s expedient, it’s fast, and it’s broadcasting.
Ten years after 9/11, people are going to use social media in a very different way. You have likely seen the Facebook statuses about breast cancer, supporting the troops, limiting government waste, and other causes: “[cause x] is harming society in some way! I have been affected by it in some way as well. I care about this case. Repost if you agree.”
This is a textbook example of what is known as a “performative statement.” These types of statements are ones where, simply by uttering the sentence, you have accomplished your goal. No further action is required. In most cases, when people declare they “care” about something, you simply have to take them at their word. You don’t have the energy or time to follow them and monitor their actions to assure they’re in accord with their declarations. So, by declaring, “I care about the harms of breast cancer,” you conclude that person cares about eradicating breast cancer.
Of course, if this person has never taken part in a Relay For Life fundraiser, donated money or time to a charity, or done anything else to actually affect the lives of people with breast cancer, then they haven’t actually done anything. You can verbally acknowledge you care about something, but the essence of caring is transferring that emotion into action.
With social media, the threshold for caring has been lowered. You no longer have to express outrage, sadness, anger, fear, or love to every single person you verbally engage with. Instead, take out your phone or computer, type it once, and everyone will know.
On Sunday, the 10th anniversary of September 11th, people will do this. They will load Facebook, type “I remember 9/11” or some variation of that general thought into the status bar, and will honestly believe they care about the 10th anniversary of 9/11. This is the typical performative statement, and it’s a fallacy. Just by saying something, it doesn’t make it so.
Instead, think today about how you are going to remember September 11th. Do you want to? Do you have no intention of remembering it because it didn’t affect your life all that much or because it contains memories too horrible to bear? Far be it from me to ask you to reconsider. Ask yourself if there is a person or a group of people you want to seek out, remembering the sacrifices they made a decade ago. (Firefighters? Soldiers? Policemen? A kind neighbor?) Consider any charities that might be worth donating to or volunteering with. Think of something to do, not just something to say.
—Photo John Hall & Associates/Flickr