Generation Jones, 9/11, and a formative decade

Here in the U.S., today is marked by the annual observances of the attacks of September 11, 2001. Several friends and family members who were more directly affected by 9/11 — in New York, Boston, and elsewhere — are readers of this fledgling blog. I know that this is an especially meaningful and hard day for them.

Those who study the beliefs and attitudes of different generations often seek to identify shaping mega-events. For Americans of two generations, it’s pretty easy: The Depression and World War II for the “Greatest Generation,” and numerous points along the whole Sixties arc for classic Baby Boomers.

And what of Generation Jones? For my generation, I believe that the 9/11 attacks were a signature event and the beginning of a defining decade.

I lived in New York City from 1982 to 1994, and for six of those years had practiced law in lower Manhattan, within easy walking distance of the Twin Towers. New York was my first chosen home, a place I have loved from my first forays into Manhattan. The images of the day — via TV screens here in Boston — felt like a hard body blow. And I knew, in ways I couldn’t fully anticipate, that the ground had shifted under us.

For many Gen Jonesers, that day shook us out of the complacency of lives formed largely in the 1970s and 1980s. Most Americans have been fortunate to escape the risks of upheaval and terrorism that continually confront millions of others around the globe. For us, 9/11 launched a new reality and a tumultuous decade, capped by the financial meltdown.

That decade likely will reverberate throughout our years. Regardless of one’s politics, the “war on terror” has changed the way we live and created challenging, unresolved questions for public policy and foreign affairs. During the last years of the 2000s, our focus shifted to economics, and brutally so. Our financial system went into near collapse, and although economists have proclaimed the Great Recession “over,” millions of people are still trying to recover.

The two preceding generations experienced their formative events relatively early in their lives. For Gen Jonesers, I think we’ll look back and see that the last decade created our new worldview, well into our adulthoods. And far from being the stuff of soggy nostalgia, we’ll be living with these realities for the long term.

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The YouTube link above is the opening montage from Woody Allen’s 1979 film, “Manhattan.” Its beautiful black & white cinematography, accompanied by Gershwin’s luscious “Rhapsody in Blue,” capture the indomitable spirit of this great city.

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