The Mystery of Osama bin Laden

Apparently, America's Twitter-using teenagers aren't sure why this Osama bin Laden guy is a big deal:


These results were drawn from Yahoo search (which, apparently, still exists), and the good folks at Yahoo offer a little context:

According to Yahoo!, The Top Searched Questions on Osama bin Laden are (based on Sunday, 5/1):

    1. Is Osama bin Laden dead?
    2. How did Osama bin Laden die?
    3. Who killed Osama bin Laden?
    4. How old is Osama bin Laden
    5. Who is Osama bin Laden
    6. Where was Osama bin Laden killed?
    7. Is Osama bin Laden dead or alive?
    8. How tall is Osama bin Laden?

News of Osama bin Laden's death seemed to have struck a chord with younger folks who grew up during the war on terrorism.

    • On Yahoo!, 1 in 3 searches for "how did osama bin laden die" on Sunday were from teens ages 13-17.
    • According to Yahoo!, 40% of searches on Sunday for "who killed osama bin laden" were from people ages 13-20.
    • However, it seems teens ages 13-17 were seeking more information as they made up 66% of searches for "who is osama bin laden?"
At first glance, this looks insane, but there are a few plausible explanations. If you are between the ages of 13 and 17 today, then you were either a toddler or a very young child on 9/11. For the oldest kids in the group, the 2008 presidential election was likely the first major event of their political lives, and bin Laden wasn't a huge concern for either candidate. Nerdier kids might have been interested in the 2006 election, but even then, Iraq was the main topic of conversation. 
Given the extent to which bin Laden had mostly drifted from our national conversation (especially in light of the Great Recession), it's not a huge surprise to learn that a non-trivial number of teenagers are baffled by his significance. Still, it's sobering; not because it reveals anything profound about our educational system or the attacks on 9/11, but because it points to an absolute truth: for each generation, America is a very different place, and the America we lost on 9/11 -- the America that didn't profile citizens, torture people, or monitor their phone calls -- isn't even a distant memory for the children and teenagers of today's America. 
In a sense, you could call this evidence of bin Laden's victory; our children might forget his name, but they'll grow up in a country shaped by his actions.

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