Looking Back, Moving Forward

September 1, 2002 | By Seema Nayyar

In the year since the attacks of Sept. 11, there’s been much talk about how that day “changed America.” But what has changed and how remains largely debatable. Has there been a resurgence of patriotism and religiosity? Have we reevaluated our lives and found a greater sense of purpose? Have our tastes shifted to reflect a more sober mood? Chances are, we won’t know the definitive answers for years to come. Truth is, the effects of Sept. 11—and its long-term impact on our lives—are still working their way into the American psyche. That’s no surprise to economist and historian Neil Howe. “Repercussions of an event are not often immediate,” he says. “We may not perceive anything for a few years. But all of these trends are together going to define the next couple of decades in America in a fundamental way.” Our efforts to understand what those repercussions could be began with our October 2001 issue. In the week following the attacks, we interviewed sociologists, historians and economists and presented their thoughts on how the events might begin to affect public attitudes. In our December 2001 feature, “Reality Shift,” we explored how some of those changes had already begun to creep into our daily lives. We commissioned four exclusive nationwide polls to help quantify what was mostly anecdotal evidence, analyzing the results with an eye to their influence on consumer behavior.

We understood this analysis of post-Sept. 11 America would be an ongoing one for the magazine. In this issue, marking the one-year anniversary of the attacks, we have re-commissioned our exclusive polls and revisited some of the experts, putting the results into context with current events. Among our goals: To understand how Sept. 11 has influenced the societal changes we began observing last year. The recession, security fears and the Middle East crises have all changed our perceptions of the world. Additionally, we sought to get beyond the sweeping generalizations characterizing post-9/11 coverage to uncover demographic differences within those trends.

To further untangle the complexity of this new world, we have included a feature on the demographic changes occurring in the Middle East. For “The Middle East Baby Boom,” contributing editor Hassan Fattah traveled between Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan initially as an associate producer for a PBS Frontline documentary and later as a reporter for American Demographics. With Sept. 11 and its effects at the center of most conversations, Fattah’s report highlights generational differences in Middle Eastern society, and a palpable desire for change among the youth, who form the majority of the population in most of the region’s countries. Says Fattah: “Even as older people spent their time with conspiracy theories and denials, the majority of young people exhibited a sense of introspection and reappraisal.”

For all the changes we face here in America, there are just as significant shifts happening elsewhere—evidence that the world is evolving in ways big and small. It is impossible to grasp all the long-term effects of Sept. 11, but we hope this anniversary package provides a snapshot of where we are today.