"Nothing will ever be the same" was our constant refrain after the terrorist attacks. But how different are we today - really?
We have accepted less privacy.
Perhaps the most visible intrusions on privacy are the full-body scanners now being rolled out at airports around the country, although about two thirds of Americans say they're willing to put up with such personal impositions to prevent terrorism.
Other infringements upon this fundamental American privilege are less apparent. Shortly after 9/11, Congress passed the Patriot Act, which expanded federal officials' powers to keep tabs on our personal information, from credit card use to cell phone calls to car travel. Today, 3,984 federal, state, and local organizations take part in domestic counterterrorism efforts; the National Security Agency alone has about 30,000 people eavesdropping on 1.7 billion intercepted e-mails and other communications every day. In June, the FBI gave significant new powers to its 14,000 agents to search databases, screen household trash, and use stakeout teams to investigate "persons of interest."
The upside: greater law enforcement success. Five billion mobile phones are now in use around the world, and 95 percent of users keep their phone within a yard of themselves at all times. "That's the same as saying the location of 95 percent of these people can be determined anytime," says Fred Cate, director of the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research at Indiana University. "Ten years ago, law enforcement would put a tail on someone; today, they call the cell phone company."
Financial institutions are also huge repositories of easily traceable, and accessible, data: Emboldened by the expanded guidelines, the Treasury Department has subpoenaed records of millions of financial transactions. "We can match up money to find organized-crime financing much easier, and it works all the time," Cate says.
But are we really safer? According to the Breakthrough Institute, a public-policy think tank, only two plots against the United States have been foiled because of the increased snooping allowed by the Patriot Act. Dozens of others, the report concluded, "were broken open due to the combination of well-deployed undercover agents, information from citizen or undercover informants, and tips from foreign intelligence agencies" - in other words, old-fashioned gumshoe work.
PLUS: How 9/11 Changed You
We are less tolerant of Islam.
Despite President Obama's assurance on last year's anniversary of 9/11 that "we are not at war with Islam," a recent Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life poll found that only 30 percent of Americans hold a favorable view of the Muslim religion - a sizable falloff from the 41 percent who held a similar opinion in 2005. Thirty-five percent of Americans believe Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence, and more than half think Muslims "aren't speaking out enough against potential terrorist attacks," according to a Rasmussen poll. Last year, the proposed development of a Muslim cultural center two blocks from Ground Zero led to widespread protests against the project.
But not all of us take a dim view. "The events of 9/11 hardened Islamophobic ideas among some - but have also stimulated greater interest in and understanding of Islam among others," says Mahmoud Ayoub, of the Duncan Black Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut. The Macdonald Center launched the first Islam chaplaincy program in the world about five years ago to provide Muslim chaplains to hospitals, the military, and elsewhere. Still, only about a dozen imams now serve in the U.S. armed forces. (In contrast, there are more than 800 Christian and Jewish chaplains in the Navy alone.)
Student enrollment in Arabic language classes surged after 9/11 and has tripled since, according to a survey of 2,500 colleges and universities. More college students now study Arabic than Russian. And there's this: The 2010 Miss USA title went to Rima Fakih of Michigan, the first time an Arab American has won the crown.
We're more respectful of the uniformed services.
In the past decade, Americans have had more confidence in the military than in any other federal institution, according to a Gallup annual poll; more than three quarters of Americans say they have great confidence in the troops.
The kudos extend to other uniformed public servants as well. "After 9/11, there was a spike in American pride in all our uniformed services, including firefighters and police officers," says Peter Feaver, a professor of political science and public policy at Duke University who has written books on society's views of the military. "They were newly relevant to your daily life - people realized that 'these guys are protecting me.' "
But we're failing our soldiers when they come home. The recession has hit veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan particularly hard: Their unemployment rate is at least three points higher than the national average and climbs to nearly 20 percent for male vets under the age of 24, according to a report from the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee. Military experts blame a "crazy vet" stereotype that has persisted since at least the Vietnam War. To counter the prejudice, some companies, like Siemens, are renewing their commitment to the Veterans Preferences Act, enacted in 1944 and last modified in 1997, which encourages businesses to give special consideration to military veterans when filling jobs.
We want to achieve energy independence more than ever.
From 2001 to early 2009, most Americans favored conservation over more energy production - but with the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and revolutions sweeping the Middle East, we've reversed our priorities. Although 87 percent of Americans believe the Gulf of Mexico hasn't fully recovered from the 2010 oil spill, 69 percent favor increased offshore drilling. And while nearly two out of three Americans want more alternative energy development, 47 percent said (even right after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant meltdown) that nuclear power's benefits outweigh its risks, compared with the 38 percent who disagreed.
But we've made little progress. While we are buying more fuel-efficient cars and we've discovered huge new domestic gas and oil fields, "the United States has not become more energy independent in the past decade," says Charles Ebinger, director of the Energy Security Initiative at the Brookings Institution. "We're still importing about 50 percent of our oil, and that's likely to increase."
We volunteer more.
After 9/11, the number of Americans who did volunteer work rose steadily, growing to nearly 29 percent by 2005, up from around 20 percent in the late 20th century. The 63 million Americans who donate their time today average 34.2 hours a year, providing $169 billion worth of services annually, free of charge.
And aging Americans' second acts will increase those numbers even more. "Seventy-six million people will be looking for an 'encore career' soon, and engaging them in highly skilled opportunities will be crucial," says Heather Peeler, chief strategy officer at the Corporation for National and Community Service. "We're already seeing nonprofits gearing up to accommodate baby boomers." Match your skills to a volunteer effort by visiting mygooddeed.org or serve.gov.