Over the 14 years since 9/11 — dating back to when I was turning 14 years old — it’s been hard for me to distinguish between what developments were the result of a changing nation and what were just part of the natural course of a girl growing up. The 9/11 terrorist attacks and adolescence coalesced so as to muddle my interpretation of that day and its consequences. But it was clear that afterward, things changed. For a while, I was fooled and believed this change to be merely an effect of growing up, amounting to paperwork, busyness and evolving inventions. But it was something more. It’s possible I was just old enough, yet just young enough, to feel it.
I was beginning my sophomore year of high school in Metro Detroit. The president and I were both sitting in school that day. At mine, the news of the World Trade Center and Pentagon aired on TV, but it seemed fictional — impossible to process. The splinters bursting from the towers seemed much less real than those breaking off my aging public school desk. But soon my world would be deluged with procedure and policy, making it quite real: school security officers became prison guards, properly packing a carry-on bag became a required life skill, telephone antennas and cords became leashes. Each technological “upgrade” amplified an inescapable surveillance.
This progression to a surveillance state made it easier for our country to impose structure and accountability, but such constant policing posed its own problems. We became accustomed to a culture lacking privacy, such that we addictively share all aspects of ourselves through social media. Afraid to be alone, we’ve embraced constant connectivity. Ultimately, an attachment to sleepless keepers — both NSA watchmen and phone companions — developed. This attachment diverts and stunts personal growth. It created a stifling order with no room for introspection on issues such as war, loss of life and moral principles. It is in this stifling order that I see what was fundamentally lost by our nation: solitude. This loss was a shift in our nation’s consciousness.
Privacy and anonymity now feel criminalized, as if we must account for every action and thought. The sentiment permeates popular culture such that posting images and having social media followers is paramount. Are these not the same shadows that Plato warned against in his Allegory of the Cave? Can one “know thyself” so tethered? To participate as citizens, we must see reality. Disconnect from chains and venture out alone from the cave to seek natural light and truth. Solitude, in its quiet independence, offers us that chance.
I recall riding a bicycle as a little girl on my grandma’s Michigan farm. Taking turn after turn down the gravel road in a hand-me-down jacket hanging below my knees, on a mission as if to find Narnia — until realizing I had become lost. Bright, open farmland surrounded me, and only brown and yellow fall leaves shuffled about. I needed to find Wright Road, the old road named after my family who settled on the empty land. No gadgets to guide me and no one watching. Panic turned to inspiration. I kept pedaling and exploring. The air tasted fresh. It felt as though I had pedaled to the pinnacle of freedom. Now, accustomed to the shackles of connectivity, I wonder if I’d be brave enough to do something so simple.
Christina Moniodis is a University alumnus.