The Best & Worst of the 2000s: An h+ Contributors Poll
First the Worst: The Bush administration, hands down. It’s unclear if the US — even under sane guidance — and the rest of the world will be able to ever reverse its depredations.
Then the Best: The detection of planetary systems with small, rocky (meaning increasingly Earth-like) planets. If the trend continues, we may discover a planet with a life signature within my lifetime.
Stephen Euin Cobb
Taking the widest possible view, and pretending we are looking back with a dispassion only possible from half a century or more in the future, the best thing to happen to human civilization in the decade now ending might be as simple as the continued expansion of the internet.
Consider this expansion’s many forms: (1) Bandwidth. Far more users now have high-speed connections. (2) Mobile access. First it was just short-range WiFi, but then it became high-speed internet on cell phones. (3) Content. Wikipedia, the blogoshere, photo sharing, social media such as Facebook and Twitter, video sharing such as Youtube, streaming TV shows such as Hulu, the Napster controversy, downloadable movies, massively multiplayer online role-playing games such as World of Warcraft, virtual worlds such as Second Life with no game-style rules or goals, VoIP allowing users to talk anywhere on earth at zero cost, open source software and operating systems, Google Earth, Google Books, and Google just about everything else. (4) Big Brother can no longer hide; little brother and little sister are watching everything. With over a billion cell phones on earth today — many with built-in video cameras — a cop can’t beat a perp a and a dictator can’t shoot a dissident without the gory details being captured and posted online in living color and stereo sound so that all the planet can witness the crime. The internet’s expansion is not just improving our lives; it is beginning to change the world’s political landscape. And there is far more yet to come.
A similar observation might reveal that it was not 9/11 or the war on terror or the rise of militant fundamentalist jihad that was the worst thing of this past decade. History may judge it to be something as simple and lacking in drama as the current economic slowdown. This slowdown might delay by half a decade the benefits which civilization will receive from the research and innovation, because their budgets were cut and money diverted to more immediate needs such as food and shelter. Granted, survival must come first, but delaying our investment in the future delays the benefits that the future will bring. We will still get that bright and shining future; we will just have to wait a bit longer to enjoy living in it.
In the area of science and its influence on public policy, one event squeaked in under the wire to become both the best and worst of the decade: Climategate. The leak of emails and code from the Hadley Climate Research Unit was a bombshell in one of the most contentious topics in public policy. Suddenly the “settled science” of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) no longer seemed quite so settled. It’s a complex, on-going controversy far more interesting and consequential than any ten Hollywood scandals put together. (And one worthy of the over-used “-gate” suffix, not just because the climate change activists trying to dismiss this seem like Nixon administration officials pooh-poohing the Watergate break-in during the early days of that scandal.)
It scores as a worst because the evidence of cherry-picked data, statistical shenanigans, questionable computer models, petty rivalries, and peer-review sabotage has severely damaged the public image of scientists as disinterested, non-political seekers of truth. Whether AGW is an impending disaster or not, from now on the general public is less likely to trust scientists on matters of public policy. And if a climate catastrophe really does hit, the scientists who fudged data to emphasize their point will be history’s biggest lesson in the dangers of crying “wolf.” So thanks, guys, just what the world needs: more ammunition for cynics and conspiracy types. Already anti-Darwinists have seized on Climategate as further “proof” that evolution is a fraud, too. Ugh.
On the other hand, it scores as one of the best because the scandal seems to have helped derail politically unworkable, humongously expensive, and likely cost-ineffective plans to control the Earth’s climate through a Rube Goldberg series of crushing taxes, unenforceable emission limits, and the transfer of vast sums of money through corruption-prone governments. Instead, let’s open source all the data and models and have the believers and the skeptics duke it out in public for the next few years. The stakes and costs are too high to rush this, and I think the planet will survive that long.
Best Consumer Electronics News: the survival and rise of Apple. It’s hard to believe that in the ’90s the press so often referred to them as “beleaguered Apple Computer” that the joke was that it was their official name. Now nobody thinks Apple is beleaguered, and their successful move into consumer electronics has led them to drop the “Computer.” They’ve revolutionized music listening and retailing with the iPod and iTunes, jolted the cellphone market with the iPhone and the App Store, and, thankfully for liberal arts semi-geeks like me, still make computers that are easy to use. Yes, open source advocates, I know: you have many valid gripes and I wish your cause well, but Apple’s top-notch products are still the best defense against a Microsoft-centric future for computing, and none of us wants that, do we?
So the “Naughties” are drawing to a close. We still seem to be here, despite being warned that the Millenium Bug would end civilization as we know it. But, there is always something waiting to end civilization as we know it, which brings me to my choice for the worst thing about the past decade.
The Climate Change Debate
Regardless of where you stand on the “climate change is/is not largely caused by human activity” issue, one thing is for sure: Some people, who would like to be perceived as scientists, are feeding us pseudoscience and propaganda, rather than empirical facts. No doubt, if you are a real expert in the requisite specialized fields, you can tell your bona fide hockey-stick graph from your bogus statistical curve.
But I am not a climate science expert, so to me the situation is one where one person shows me data I don’t understand, then informs me of some conclusion that I must take to be correct because said speaker “is an expert, trust me.” But then someone else, also claiming to be an expert, shows me some other set of incomprehensible data which apparently proves the other guy was wrong after all. “No, don’t trust that guy. Trust me.” Before I know it, I am drowning in argument, counterargument, accusations of cover-ups and who is in the pockets of the big corporate what, and I just don’t know what the hell is really going on.
It is frustrating because I want to protect the planet I depend upon for my survival. Stands to reason, after all. But I do not want to inadvertently do the wrong thing, or the ineffectual thing. I want to buy products and use services that have genuine green credentials, but maybe I have been suckered by some “greenwash” marketing campaign?
So, yes, for me the worst thing about the past decade is the hopelessly muddled and confusing climate change issue.
Videogames Go Mainstream in a Big Way
The best thing? Well, to be an H+ advocate is to have a love of technology. There is a bit of the geek in all of us, I think. And sometimes it feels good to say, “Hey, the geeks were right.” And boy, were we right about videogames. It is well within living memory when the term “videogame player” was virtually a by-word for some fat teenager with little social skills, staring like a moron at some dreadful bleeping time-waster.
Sony did much to dispel that stereotype in the ’90s with the PlayStation, but it was really the Naughties that confirmed videogames’ rightful place in the living room as bona-fide family-orientated entertainment. From little sister training her Nintendog to sit, to dad competing against grandma on Singstar (earplugs a recommended option) or Uncle versus Auntie on Wii Boxing (insured television a recommended option), to Xbox Live bringing plug-n-play MMOG to the console masses, and World of Warcraft’s 20 gazillion subscribers (it probably will be that many by the time you read this), 2000-2009 was the decade in which video gaming stood proudly beside the DVD and said “Oh, I can do what you do, why are you still here?,” only (in the case of the Xbox360 at least) to turn literally red in the face as a hardware failure made you glad you had a backup DVD player.
And just when you were fearing all the running and gunning and fighting and goring had been replaced by puppy-wuppies so cute it makes you sick, along comes a GTAIV or a Modern Warfare2 to put your mind at rest. Oh, and while we are on the subject of more traditional videogame entertainment, how’s about firing up Crysis alongside the best graphics and physics a ’90s 1st person shooter could muster, and watching an “accelerating pace of computer technology” denier’s stance turning to mush as effectively as a NPC turns to digital goo under the onslaught of Kalashnikov bullets?
Hell, if we see a similar leap in capabilities during the next ten years or so, a mass migration of uploaded human souls into a virtual paradise of lithe ladies, exotic sports cars, humungous guns and naked dwarfs taking a stand (or rather, a sit) against the ruling forces of the metaverse will be a near certainty. And, in the meantime the Earth, now largely absent of polluting humans, will become a paradise of green trees and 10 foot tall blue humanoids called the Cam’Ron.
Worst New Musical Instrument: Guitar Hero
Essentially an electronic sample-triggering interface with near-zero control over which samples — more of a percussion toy than the guitar to whose lovers it was marketed — Guitar Hero exemplifies to me a massive step backward, the mascot of an obsolete paradigm. User input is a binary endeavor — you either march on beat to the manufacturer’s selection of Top 40 content, or suffer the annoying clicks that announce your failure. Way to perpetuate the producer/consumer divide, Guitar Hero! Way to reinforce the Pavlovian nightmare of school bells and rote learning that already undermines the last-resort creative capital of the western world…. This kind of musical training will cripple our next generation of musicians when the time comes to prove our worth next to improvising robots. And that’ll be, like, now.
Best New Musical Instrument: The Reactable
If Guitar Hero operates on the centralized, consumption-centered media-model of television, The Reactable is the musical avatar of Web 2.0. Not only is it a content-free revolution in musical control interfaces with a negligible learning curve (kids can pick it up almost immediately) that screams for collaborative applications (it can be played by as many people as can squeeze themselves around the table), but it was actually designed vision-first with these qualities in mind by an entire academic music technology department in Barcelona. And the tech they developed to make their dream a reality is applicable to a ludicrous range of “interactive tangible multi-touch applications” limited solely by our collective imagination. Watching this device in the able hands on stage with Björk last year made me feel like I’d been abducted by the future — and if the future bears any resemblance, it will be an awesome party, indeed.
Paradigm changes are the changes in the beliefs of a modern society — day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year, true or not, good news or bad. For the worst paradigm of the first ten years of this millennium, I pick Americans believing that they are the good guys, the folks in the white hats, who would never do anything wrong. While the horror of the 9/11 attack shattered America’s perception of safety while birthing a sense of permanent umbrage, our international behavior — or rather the behavior of the US government and those in power — lost any sense of righteousness almost from the beginning. The raging taste for war was palpable, while the arguments for action eroded and devolved with new flaws covering earlier ones. There are times in which one finds oneself in an intractable situation, whether created by one’s own hand or that of others, where one can’t slip away quietly into the night. Thus it is with Iraq and Afghanistan. Whatever your political bent, or how you feel about the events of the last decade, few Americans still believe the American government represents them, much less that it has the franchise on global white hats. Feelings run from confused to apologetic to angry to frustrated. Some are torn apart by the grief that comes like a thief in the night when loved ones have made the ultimate sacrifice. Others feel that what could have been handled, simply wasn’t. All the media rhetoric has just become words and more words. It is as if we are at that moment in a young adult’s life when he or she realizes that parents aren’t perfect — they’re just people, and all people have flaws. And all people can let situations get away from them. America’s self-perceived paradigm of being the good guy has taken a mighty hit, and that’s probably all for the best.
Now to the positive. The best paradigm shift in the first ten years of the millennium has to do with the rise of the individual and the concept of personal sovereignty. With the introduction and explosion of DNA technologies, each of us now has the firm conviction that we are truly unique in all the world, and that we are the absolute descendent of an unbroken line of humans. To date, nothing has been tinkered with, and so each and every one of us is certifiably human. Add in expanded mobile communications abilities, and we know that we can interact with most everyone we want, whenever and wherever we want. Then throw in GPS, and we know that we are precisely at one place on this Earth, and we have come to expect all of this 24/7. Each of us has become a node on the Internet, and the idea that we are a complete entity onto ourselves. What we need nations for adds up to less and less, and many times, it gets in the way. You might say it’s not unrelated to the demise of the America-as-the-good-guy paradigm. It’s the fact that with all this personal technology, individuals feel much more identification with self and those that they care about, and much less about which nation they live in. Better yet, they’re not going back.
The New Depression
The Financial Crisis of 2007-9 destroyed trillions upon trillions of dollars. People all over the world, but especially Americans and Europeans, shipped their cash to the chieftains of the financial sector, who promptly piled up this money and set it on fire.
Unfortunately, this description is only metaphor. Yes; we did get to see our wealth destroyed in real-time, in slow-motion, and with color commentary, but financial instruments did the actual destroying, tools so abstract and bloodless that you can’t get much frisson from their workings, even when they’re dismantling your house.
Further, the villains of the meltdown engaged in hardly any conspicuous consumption. Sure; we had the guy who gave his wife a vodka-pissing ice sculpture for her birthday and the Big Three execs who flew private planes to D.C. to beg for money, but for every one of them, you had a thousand bland millionaires who merely uglified their suburbs with McMansions. Banality and bailouts prevented the Revolution. Banking remains just the same as ever, and bankers will cause another boring disaster in the near future. As the financial chieftains danced around the money fire, no one pushed them in. Disappointing.
Iraq and Afghanistan
Hundreds of thousands of people dead and — though we pay little attention to them — maimed, trillions of dollars spent, and no good war to show for it. Since the Persian Gulf Non-War, commentators and comedians have observed that conflicts in the Middle Eastern-Central Asian theatre tend to lack essential aspects of war — opposing armies and battles for example. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in the ’00s have led to almost no warfighting, but lots of counter-insurgency of the kind practiced during colonialism. But these conflicts are no more colonization than they are war. The U.S. is hardly stealing any resources or enslaving anyone. The corporations that have parasitized the dual occupations have siphoned wealth from Americans more than from Iraqis or Afghans.
Iraq and Afghanistan provide neither wealth nor glory for Americans. The fighting in these places is so antipathetic that no one can even get away with making a video game about it. This year, Atomic Games tried to develop Six Days in Fallujah, a game based on one of the few big fights of the occupation. The idea raised such a stink that the company gave up on it. What kind of war can’t have a video game?
Video games are more popular and sophisticated than ever. On-line multiplayer video gaming is the most technologically advanced form of leisure ever developed, and the number of people doing it is staggering. Crazyracing Kartrider, a series of on-line racing and car-customization games popular in Asia, has drawn tens of millions of players. Nearly all blockbuster games developed for the major consoles provide on-line multiplayer support, and this brand of play has engendered its own sub-culture.
Even better, budgets for big titles have skyrocketed to tens of millions of dollars, to the point where they’ve begun to bankrupt the companies making them. Game sales revenues have soared, but publisher profits have declined. All the while, the big-selling games in the U.S. have maintained breathtaking levels of stupidity: imagine beggaring yourself to make a video game best suited to the predilections of heterosexual, white, suburban boys who turned twelve in 1984. This is the American economy of video games, but expending wealth so that brats can kill each other on-line while squealing racist, sexist, and homophobic epithets does have an upside. Offering a generation of boys a chance to direct their viciousness into play has made them remarkably uneager for real war. Army recruitment numbers have declined over the ’00s, while the percentage of kids playing video games has risen. Negative correlation doesn’t establish causation, of course, but the phenomenon raises interesting questions: Why has the Army had such a hard time meeting its recruitment goals in the midst of two wars? Why haven’t violent video games driven players to sign up for a shot at real violence? Does the excess of play have more appeal than the excess of war? Here’s hoping.
The American system of food production relies heavily on subsidies, resulting in massive overproduction. The material consequences of this overproduction turn up, not only in the alarmingly large fat deposits found in American bodies, but in the discarding of some 40% of all food produced in the United States. The way Americans eat leaves us unhealthy and knee-deep in rotting trash.
Then comes the local food movement. Now, this movement does have good intentions, but consider for a moment the most immediate effect of the changes it advocates. A network of new, small, labor-intensive food producers laid on top of the system we already have would result first in… more food.
Of course, the idea is that this new food would be better than the old stuff and, because we have to work harder to produce it, its calories wouldn’t be so cheap and its resultant wealth would be distributed more evenly. The transformation of our food system in a local, sustainable direction makes sense.
But during the transformative period we will be taking our excess wealth and, in a land of way too much food, we will produce even more extra food. This idea is so excessive, it has to be right.
The best was the assertion of atheism in the English-speaking world led by people like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.
The worst was the violent assertion of fundamentalist Islam, Pentecostalism and Hinduism.
Best of the Decade
The architecture of open, end-to-end networks that was made manifest by the internet. Despite many attempts at commodification and control, the Net’s democratic and participatory ethos has been maintained right through the oughties. My feeling is that this resilience is because the internet is our ultimate “ground of play” — a mirroring of that balance between individual freedom and collective robustness that forges the character of complex mammals, and a structural reinforcement of the conditions of neoteny, or child-like playfulness, for adult humans. If this is the Net’s real anchor, then I think we’re in for even more surprises and richnesses to come.
Worst of the Decade
Our developed-world inability to respond to the ethical and institutional challenge of the Net makes us seem permanently trapped in the same mine-thine Cartesian mindset that has undergirded all our grief about intellectual copyright, crime networks, and the collapse of the work ethic in organizations. What worries me is that we’ve blown our opportunity to create a new social contract for the world through web culture, to blend Eastern and Western conceptions of self and environment through the socio-technical practice of our networks and digitizations. An authoritarian, Confucian-inflected capitalism coming out of China may prove to be the new post-individualist model for progress — maybe most crucially in Africa.
Worst news first. This was the decade in which legislative bodies worldwide, and in particular in the United States, became utterly captured by corporate interests. This was effected not in the old fashioned way of bribing and buying off legislators (not that this has stopped), but in the perfection of tools to control media (the manufacture of consent) and in the ultimate breakthrough, the development of strategies to supplant grass roots movements with “astroturfed” movements — movements like the “Tea Party” movement in the United States that appear grass roots but which in reality are ginned up and financed by corporate interests (and corporate controlled media like Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News). The net result is that any progressive cause must now fight against (i) politicians on the take in the old fashioned way, (ii) a hostile corporate-controlled media, (iii) ginned-up hostile political action. Resistance is now futile.
The best thing is that the Aughts were also the decade that saw the birth of virtual worlds, which, in the fullness of time, will come to replace the now-captive traditional nation-states. As our work lives and social lives continue to move online, nation-states like the United States will be come less relevant to our lives. Of course, in the present these virtual worlds are run by “wizards” and “game gods” that control the worlds so capriciously and ham-fistedly that there is so far no illusion of fairness, justice, or democracy. That’s the good news: the lack of illusion. The question is, will corporate interests be able to “capture” all these virtual worlds as well and convince us (contrary to fact) that we are living in online democracies? Or will some virtual worlds break free of corporate control and be “Temporary Autonomous Zones” in the sense of Hakim Bey? Unfortunately, that is probably the most that we can hope for. Not exactly what you could call “good,” but arguably the “best” thing to come out of the Aughts: the birth of the cyber states and the slender hope that not all of them will be captured by corporate interests.
The Best of the Decade: There are many who would name Obama’s election as the best event of the decade, but I want to say something original, so I will not comment on his merits (or lack thereof). Instead, I will name Ben Bernanke’s appointment as Chairman of the Federal Reserve as Best of the Decade, for the simple reason that Mr. Bernanke appears to be competent, and in these times we need all the competent leadership we can get.
In general, as I think most people would agree, political contests are not decided primarily on the basis of competence. Both Democrats and Republicans will talk about times when their party lost an election even though their own candidate was better at governing, because the other party’s candidate was more charismatic, or spent more on campaign ads. And we can all agree that there have been times when voters elected a candidate who turned out to be disastrous for everyone, like Adolf Hitler in Germany. So, it should come as no surprise when we see things like the president of Georgia failing to predict Russia’s response to his attack on South Ossetia — even though a bunch of video game writers predicted it six years in advance, in Tom Clancy’s “Ghost Recon.”
In addition, many of the government officials whose job it is to regulate the finance industry come from investment banks, especially Goldman Sachs. And investment banking, like being a real estate agent, is primarily a sales job; instead of selling houses to ordinary people, you sell big businesses to other big businesses. Hence, if you look at officials like Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson (former head of Goldman Sachs) and Federal Reserve Governor Kevin Warsh (former Vice President at Morgan Stanley), you’ll find that they got their jobs because of their ability to make a deal that worked out in their favor, not because of their skill at economic management.
Ben Bernanke, on the other hand, was never a politician or an investment banker. He’s an academic — he has a Ph.D. in economics, and he was a professor at Stanford, before becoming Chairman of the Princeton Economics Department. He actually understands economics, and he’s published dozens of papers on economic theory. And he’s now in a position to make a difference — according to Time Magazine, the head of the Federal Reserve is now the second most powerful man in the United States, after the President.
The Worst of the Decade: Like Obama’s election, we’ve all already heard about the financial crisis, and its disastrous implications. So, I will name a bigger, longer-term, potentially even more threatening trend as Worst of the Decade: the retirement of the Baby Boomers, which officially began in 2007, when the first Boomer turned 62.
By now, everyone has heard that the mass retirement of the boomers will cause problems with funding Social Security and Medicare. And these problems are indeed troublesome; by 2040, we could be facing an annual shortfall of hundreds of billions of dollars, which will force us to either raise taxes or cut funding to these immensely popular programs.
However, there is a second, larger effect, which most people haven’t heard of. During the past thirty years, the Boomer generation has been saving for retirement. They’ve put money into their 401(k)s — money which was used to buy stocks and bonds. They’ve put money into their houses — money that went to prop up the housing market. They’ve put money into savings accounts at banks — money that helped lower interest rates, because of the larger pool of cash that banks had available for borrowers.
But, now that the Boomers are retiring, they’ll need to convert these assets into cold, hard cash, to spend on housing, food, travel, golf club memberships, and the other necessities of life. They’ll start selling their stocks, their bonds, and their big houses in the suburbs, so that they can use the money to fund their retirements. And, as every economist and businessman knows, when a whole bunch of people dump their assets on the market at the same time, the price of those assets plummets.
So, we probably still have a long-term, secular bear market ahead of us, in stocks, bonds, housing, and most other investments, that will continue way past 2010. Judging by previous long-term bear markets, the nominal prices of these assets may not actually drop that much — they may just stay still, while inflation slowly eats away at their value. And that will be a more enduring legacy than any month-long stock market panic, however bad it seemed at the time.
- Transhumanism’s intellectual explosion: Cyborg Citizen, Citizen Cyborg, Our Posthuman Future, Liberation Biology, The Future of Human Nature, and “Beyond Therapy” were all written, taking futurist speculations seriously and addressing the political and social concerns associated with human enhancement.
- The rise of normalized queer culture: Tim Gunn, Ellen DeGeneres, Andrew Sullivan and Rachel Maddow are evidence of society at large accepting homosexuals as normal and worthy of idolization. As more and more people recognize friends, coworkers and celebrities who are gay, legal equality has become a matter of when, not if.
- Communication technology, specifically cellphones and broadband internet: The ubiquity of these two inventions has fundamentally altered how global society functions. How we research, flirt, see family, stay in touch with friends, present ourselves to the world, work, and learn have been improved in ways that are still almost incomprehensible.
- Severe contraction of civil liberties: The Patriot Act. Gitmo. Rendition. TSA. Color-coded fear. And that’s just in the US.
- The politicization of scientists and science. Evolution, global warming, vaccination myths and other issues have turned scientific facts into the playthings of demagogues.
- The medical system. How we think about it. How we pay for it. How we use it. How it operates and keeps records. It’s almost impossibly broken.
Top Ten of the Decade
Every once in a while, we get a reminder that things are changing, and fast. I’m talking about those milestones that hit the public eye and cause a noticeable shift in perception.
Caveat: I couldn’t put companies like Google or Facebook on the list. While search and social media are both huge game changers for the ’00s, it wasn’t like we woke up and they appeared. They took years to evolve. I’m looking for things that seemed to happen literally overnight. Here are the top ten overnight game changers:
10) James Cameron’s Avatar (2009)
In development since 1994, Avatar is number 10 on the list for one main reason: mise-en-scène. What the film lacks in story-telling, it makes up for in sheer visual and cultural depth. Cameron invented new motion capture techniques and developed the concept of a “virtual camera” in which he could run the scene and watch it from any angle. Also, the Na’vi are so life-like as an alien species, it’s hard to believe they are fictional.
9) The Election of President Barack Obama (2008)
On November 2nd, 2008, an African-American man was voted to become the 44th President of the United States. With Obama being the first to break a 200-year cycle of old Caucasian presidents, he embodies a gradual shift toward social tolerance and diversity. It is clear that, despite this achievement, we have a long way to go. Also, history will decide what kind of leader Obama is, but when he was elected the world celebrated more than just a new President.
8) Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009)
MW2 is a standard holiday blockbuster video game, except for one main point. Infinity Ward’s latest shooter had the best opening release of any form of entertainment, ever — including books, movies, and television. In the first 24 hours the game made $310 million in revenue from the US and UK markets alone; and over the first 5 days, $550 million worldwide. Video games are on the way to becoming the most popular form of entertainment, and Modern Warfare 2 is proof.
7) 9/11 Attacks (2001)
Anyone can look back and remember where they were the moment the World Trade Center was attacked. There were a number of changes in perception that instantly occurred on that morning, however for the purposes of this list, I’d like to point out one in particular: for many in the US, the world got instantly smaller.
6) An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
Al Gore’s film on global warming was a catalyst for huge changes in attitude on green energy and climate activism. Schools around the world began showing the film as part of their regular curriculum. With this movie, climate change was redefined as an immediate tangible threat, and the word “sustainable” became a household term.
5) Tesla Roadster (2006)
Tesla Motors unveiled its flagship electric vehicle in July of 2006, stomping all over public stereotypes of weak and space-agey electric go-carts. The Roadster was fast (0-60 in 3.9 seconds), sleek, completely silent, and featured in mainstream media like Time Magazine, Jay Leno’s Garage, and later in the TV show, Royal Pains. The Roadster is a sign that the automobile industry is about to change.
4) Nintendo Wii (2006)
While interactivity through motion had been around for a while, the Wii connected a novel technology with the average family. After its introduction in November 2006, the Wii outsold both the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 by a wide margin. In itself, the Wii was not an advanced machine, but it was the harbinger of vast changes in the way we interact with technology. In 2009, Microsoft and Sony both announced motion game devices, with the former hinting at intentions to take advanced versions of the technology beyond games.
3) Apple (2001, 2003, 2007)
Apple Inc. changed the technology game in more than a few major markets over the past decade: the iPod in 2001, the iTunes Music Store in 2003, and the iPhone in 2007. While lagging behind in OS and computer market share for years, Apple moved into areas where they saw opportunity. Portable music, online digital downloads, and handheld computing will be forever changed thanks to them.
2) Ansari X Prize (2004)
Burt Rutan and SpaceShipOne achieved a remarkable milestone for humanity by flying to space, and doing it again in the same ship less than two weeks later. Since then, space tourism has become an accessible concept, as well as providing a much-needed jumpstart to the international space program.
1) Human Genome Project (2000)
A “rough draft” of the fully mapped human genome was released in 2000, and the final version 3 years later. With this, genetic manipulation and research — including disease prevention and customized medicine — is closer to reality than ever before.
Best: We learned that humans may fulfill our ancient dream to forestall age and death.
Worst: We learned that we may be the last humans to age and die on schedule.
The worst thing is noise pollution. Leaf blowers are a bane — so what if a leaf rots on the ground? Leave it alone. And why does every coffee shop and breakfast nook have loud, unpleasant music? Are we so afraid of our inner thoughts? Vegas jazz (the kind played behind Frank Sinatra) should be forever banned. Why are they still playing it? Who wants to hear it anymore? Schools all over the country now have PA systems that you can hear from a mile away. Living near a school is like living near a prison. Sound is mind control.
The best thing is the free unfettered internet. Incredible that it worked out this way, with any one of us capable of launching a website readable by all, with no censorship and no startup costs. We used to dream of a universal library, or a Big Computer that answers all questions, and we’ve moved sideways into having this via Google or any other search engine. It’s all in the cloud, and all of us can contribute the cloud as much as we like. It’s a kind of miracle.
1) Movie theater commercials. Man, it used to be just sitting through trailers before the movie. I love going to the movie theater, it’s one of my favorite pastimes. I hate that advertisers have figured out that we as an audience are captive and can be forced to watch them hawk products. Sure, they’re creative and sometimes fun, but it sucks when a trailer ends and you realize you’ve just been sold on a car, cologne, or a soft drink. It’s OK, though. While they have us as a captive audience because we wanted the best seats and got there early, we still have them in the end. Check out the best list for how, *wink.*
2) Social Networking. I am a Facebook junkie. If you participate in any of the social networks you know there are many perks, but quite a few drawbacks. I refer to Jerry and George’s problem of worlds colliding. Imagine Mom, Grandma, Cousin Joe, the hot guy/girl you know, your co-workers, boss, casual friends, acquaintances, strangers, etc., all in an auditorium with you and talking to them at once. This would never happen in real life, unless you were giving a lecture, in which case there is a behavioral social protocol. Social networking turns this all on its head. It lets Grandma and your boss and your friends all know that you were up late working on a paper, instead of: calling Grandma, doing work, or going out partying with your friends. Having self-restraint for what you say in person: easy. Having it online: not so easy.
Now the fun part, my Best list:
1) Nintendo Wii. I have been playing video games since I was a kid. Being a girl has never been a barrier for me. I loved Mario and got the Nintendo with the Power Mat and have never looked back. When it came to the Wii, I sweet-talked some guy at BestBuy to find out when to get in line, then camped out front and slept on the sidewalk that night to get one of the first systems. It has been love ever since. Wii is a system that gets you in the game, not just psychologically, but physically. There are other systems that should interest me, but they don’t touch the Wii’s ability to take my whole body in to the game world. This Christmas I can play tons of games that would require a rec room and not worry about losing any of the pieces: they’re in my remote. I can sword-fight, play with those fantastically rabid Rabbits, and completely escape from the world. Then they came out with the Wii Fit board, the skateboard, etc. My feet are in the world, too! It weighs me and then lets me play. Tip of the Hat to the creators and their ingenuity. I could go on and on, but this is my #1 Best of the ’00s.
2) Digital Video Recorders. Remember the movie theater commercials on the worst list? Ha-ha! Welcome the DVR. Yeah, we had VCRs, but I laugh at that now, because the DVR is power in our hands, a power that has never been easier and does not require multiple unlabeled videotapes. No longer do the big networks or cable tell me when I have to sit in front of my big, luscious TV! Now I’m in control and I will watch it when I want. I’ve never been more productive in my life now that I have it. And, now I only watch the commercials that interest me. Yes, I know there is Hulu and the networks let you watch online at their websites, but it’s not the same. I want to watch it on my big-ass TV, not my laptop. Plus, with the online shows you still have to deal with watching the same soap commercial over and over again. It’s not an efficient use of time.
The Worst: 1) The 9/11 attack by lunatic Muslim fundamentalists. 2) The increase of violence against children and sex slavery, worldwide. 3) The blatant stealing of two elections by the GOP/George W. Bush and his Supreme Court. 4) The consequences of same on the environment, including climate change. 5) The stupidity of “the left” in their shortsighted failure to support President Obama. 6) Deterioration of American education. 7) Mindless use of media technology. 8) The Iraq war. 9) USA engaging in torture. 10) The irritating distraction of 9/11 conspiracy theorists. 11) Environmental deregulation worsening toxicity in the seas, e.g. the Plastic Vortex in the Pacific, and leading to ever more untested chemicals used in the environment finding their way into your bloodstream: phthalates, etc. 12) Suppression of gay marriage in California. 13) The rise of “teabag” nuts and other rightwing extremists. 14) The movement of people who used to be on the left into Libertarianism, which is allied with conservatives and corporations, whether they know it or not. 15) Increasing corporate power under Bush. 16) The recession due to Republican (and Clinton’s) deregulation of banking/investment.
The Best: 1) The election of Barack Hussein Obama. 2) Barack Obama’s Presidency in the first year, with far more progress than missteps, including health reform that will provide free health care for everyone with an income 29K or under in the USA, an actual working EPA, and progress on ending Iraq war. 3) Cessation of Americans using torture. 4) Obama’s freeing up of research on stem cells. 5) Moves to clean up carbon emissions and air and water. 6) Gay marriage in at least some parts of the USA. 7) A beginning of reining in of banks and corporate power (they’re just getting started, more to come). 8) Research progress and increasing hope for the fight against Alzheimer’s disease and AIDS.
As the bad got a lot worse…
Future historians may look back and refer to the decade just concluding as The Bush Era. From the flawed, flummoxing election of 2000 to the disastrous decision to invade and occupy Iraq, and from his bungling of the economy to his criminal disregard for the Constitution, no single figure had a greater impact on the world in the last ten years than George W. Bush.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 were traumatic, but their historical perspective would loom much less large if not for a disproportionate and misguided response — including the Iraq War, secret prisons, torture, and the extensive but illegal warrant-less domestic spying on U.S. citizens.
The global economy lurched from one setback to another, resulting in stagnating real incomes for everyone except the tiny minority of the ultra-rich who got a lot richer as wealth disparity reached historic heights. Meanwhile, the decade’s actual worst problem, and quite possibly the whole new century’s worst problem — rising temperatures and melting ice caps, leading toward runaway climate chaos — was largely ignored.
Our tools got a little better…
Mobile telephones were not invented in the 2000’s, but their arrival as fully functional handheld multimedia devices — carrying voice, text, photo, video, GPS, and web-surfing capacities — is an astonishing break from the recent past. We’ve not yet seen the full impacts of this people-empowering phenomenon, but we are witness to the birth of a remarkable change in human communication and connectivity.
The best thing that happened during The Aughts was the rise of new media, including social networks. MySpace, Twitter, and Facebook, among others, enabled people to make connections in new and surprisingly productive (if often trivial) ways. Blogs took huge strides toward supplanting and improving upon traditional news outlets, and online organizing made it possible for many new voices to be heard.
The ultimate triumph of an emerging 21st century sensibility was the election of the first African-American U.S. President, a signal achievement that could not have occurred in the absence of these powerful new tools. How Barack Obama’s term (or terms) in office will play out is a matter to be determined in the next decade, but for now, we can simply celebrate the arrival of a new dawn, cloudy though it might be.
The highlights of the ’00s include the ISNPS STAIF Conference — a massive Air Force Sponsored aerospace geekfest held in Albuquerque that featured the world’s first peer-reviewed (AIP) papers on applied string and brane theory. The conference original focus was space nuclear power, but the addition of visionary research in space colonization and advanced propulsion made it a truly remarkable venue.
The other highlight of the ’00s is Robert Bussard’s “Polywell” IEC Plasma-Fusion generator. Tests conducted shortly before Bussard’s death indicated that this device has the potential to truly realize the dream of fusion power that we’ve been waiting decades to see, and funding by the Navy will ensure that his legacy lives on — and that this valuable research continues.
The worst of the ’00s? Rats will sit around pushing a button if it’s wired to deliver a jolt to their pleasure centers, which puts them up the evolutionary ladder from human beings, who push the same button on Facebook all day for no reward whatsoever. Instead of reading Tom Clancy novels on the toilet, now we get Twitter posts about the entire experience broadcast to a worldwide audience — but don’t feel embarrassed, because we’re all too busy posting to read anybody else’s material.