A Decade In Review, Part I: The Aughts

A few weeks ago I decided it would be an interesting exercise to recount some of the most memorable experiences I’ve had this decade. As the conventional wisdom goes, the best way to look ahead is to take a look back. So, I started a list, which was easy — following through, however, has been more challenging. My intention was to blog about this list, but aside from myself, who really cares about reading a list of my accomplishments? What should even be considered in the list? Good, bad and/or ugly? And how to prevent such an exercise from being so solipsistic as to become meaningless? After all, without considering the backdrop against which a life is lived, how can one gauge anything at all?

Given all of that, and considering that, from time to time, I do actually think about a picture bigger than my portrait, I’ve come to realize that this blog shall be in two parts: a brief review of the past decade, and a partial recount of my personal decade. In reviewing the decade at large, I hope to observe some major trends that have and will likely continue to shape the fabric of society, including the thread that is my life. In doing so, I wish to lay the ground work for a clearer perspective on myself and my times so that I might be best prepared for the next decade to come.

Part I: The Aughts

In thinking about the decade known to some as the “Aughts,” I have wondered why I didn’t write something similar about the decade known as the ’90s. Looking back at my journal from that time doesn’t reveal much. I do remember being caught up in the Y2K craze, wondering if this might not be the end of civilization as we knew it, but then again, I’m kind of susceptible to those “sky is falling” scenarios. As it turns out, though, I’m facing the close of this decade with a fair amount more introspection than the last time around. I suppose that 10 years in a life, especially 10 years in the first half of a life, can significantly alter how one processes the passage of time. And, quite frankly, I think the period of my life between 25 and 35 was a bit more exciting than that between 15 and 25. However, one thing that I am certain of is that I did not have the same platform upon which to process and broadcast in 1999 as we all do today, which brings me to my first observation…

One of the great societal shifts to occur over the last 10 years has been the rapid externalizations of our lives. Technology, and, specifically, the Internet, has transformed how we interact with each other, and even how we see ourselves. It has enabled us, with simple access to a web-connected computer, to broadcast our heartfelt convictions, creative expressions or trifling whims and fancies to an audience of potential millions. In the year 2000, there were no online social networks to speak of — today, through the evolution from Friendster to MySpace to Facebook, one could argue that we have too many. Likewise, since their inception early in the decade, blogging has become everything from hapless fun to a legitimate form of journalism. Video technology now empowers anyone with a few bucks to craft their own story in moving images. And, for better or worse, our virtual inbox has expanded from simple email to include text messages, social network messages, Twitter, all on top of the relics of snail mail and voice mail.

I see this unprecedented access to communications platforms as one of the last great hopes for freedom and democracy, but, ironically, also a great threat to free thought and collective action. Given the corporate control of traditional media outlets such as television, film and radio, outsider or “fringe” culture has never been able to communicate their messages to the degree that is now possible. Further, our newfound digital connections have enabled members of far flung subcultures to find each other and share, create, organize. Consequently, we’ve seen new levels of accountability for our leaders, if not downright revolutions waged with these tools. The downside to this ability to broadcast, beyond creating such menial, if not at times hilarious memes like LOLcats, is that we are witnessing the continued splintering of social groups. Perhaps more disturbing, however, is the self-fulfilling reinforcement of peronsl beliefs due to our new ability to conciously segregate ourselves by filtering information we receive according to our worldviews. With the ability to select our own version of “news” tailored to fit our pre-conceived notions and minimize cognitive dissonance, i.e. displeasure, I fear that we a breeding mental inflexibility that could result in a frightening era of fundamentalism.

The evolution of technology in the Aughts was not restricted to the Internet. This decade might well be considering the decade of mobile. Ephemeralization, the process of doing more with less as observed and coined by Buckminster Fuller, has been hard at work and well in hand over the past 10 years. What began the decade as a pleasant convenience that served a simple function — making and recieving phone calls without being tied to a landline — has metamorphosed into the handheld communicator envisioned by Gene Roddenberry in Star Trek three decades prior. Now, the ability to capture a moment, in sound, image or video, lies at the tips of our fingers, and the concomitant privacy issues have changed human relations forever. From the mainstreaming of pornography to the accountability of the political class, I still don’t think we’ve come to understand how differently our lives will be in mobile age, to speak nothing about how geo-location will play out in the coming decade.

These are some of the bigger trends that I’ve seen impacting humanity as we know it. Of course, so much more transpired in the Aughts. At the start of the decade, and now at the end, terror came home to America and America went back to war, as if we ever really left it behind. The next great environmental threat of climate change was handed to the next unsuspecting generation to confront, which kick-started a new movement for sustainability, along with new levels of apathy and ecological detachment. Our political system continued its long, slow merger with the private sector, much to the chagrin of independent political observers, and much to the detriment of everyone but the nation’s wealthiest. That same private sector presided over the further destabilization of the global economy thanks to trading in utterly abstract and absolutely worthless financial products. In the same decade, America elected to the office of President the first black man as well as what may have been the most average man ever to hold the office. Many icons passed on — Michael Jackson, George Harrison, Ted Kennedy, Terence McKenna, to name a few. And unfortunately, reality TV made it that much easier for no-talents to replace these luminaries in the pantheon of public consciousness.

And so on. I could continue, but I need to stop somewhere, as does this decade. Up next, Part II: LSG in the Aughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.