The last 10 years will be dubbed, inevitably, the You Decade. How the next decade unfolds will be far more complex than anything you could say in a 140-character tweet.
The 1970s were the Me Decade. The first 10 years of the 21st century are due for a pronoun of their own - one born of the computer age and its power to set free the individual. These last 10 years will be dubbed, inevitably, the You Decade. After all, no matter where you went, there you were — on YouTube, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in silhouette in the early iPod ad, gyrating with abandon, earbuds tuned to — who else? — U2. And when you had something to say, there was nothing holding you back from reaching millions. You could read about killings in Sri Lanka or hear about teacher layoffs in your local school district, and with but a tap and click, you could enter the debate. Or start it.
While the Me Decade was marked by the many ways you could disappear into your own concerns, the decade now ending kept reminding you that the world was watching your every little move. As virtual as life in the ether might seem, it was far from ethereal. Your every online footstep could be as sticky as flypaper. In fact, parents have a new life lesson to teach their budding young adults: Once you post it, it’s forever, and forever out of your control, so watch what you do with this new media. With no Ctrl-Z to reverse the thud of the Enter key, your profanity-laced rants or your video indiscretions — your sexts — can be impossible to take back. At the same time, you get the nagging sense that it’s not just about you. It’s a feeling you can’t escape, and you know it’s not just the hamster wheel of constant connectedness spinning around you that gives you vertigo. What is it?
The answer is obvious. It’s something that happened in the decade’s infancy, but it feels like yesterday. Or, more terrifying, like any minute now, especially after the failed bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, the planes, and the towers, and the people fell from the sky. The terrorists’ plot was pre-computer age in its conception — a set of box cutters, a term in flight school, coordination, patience, and perhaps the sense that we were all looking away just before it happened. Indeed, the attack was a crisp, cold slap, just as we were revving up to a decade of collective attention deficit. The terrorists’ ruthlessness was a sharp reminder that they were not as entranced as we were with our views, our interests, or our lives.
In the fearful days after 9/11, we experienced the brief, eerie quiet of jetless skies. But that passed soon enough, and by the decade’s end, the terrorists’ intrusion had faded next to the power of technology and the continuing allure of its portals to individual expression.
Time magazine celebrated the Information Age by putting a funky little mirror on its cover and telling us the 2006 Person of the Year was “you.” But did anyone who gazed into it stop to notice how blurry the image was? As 2009 draws to a close, we step unsteadily into the next 10 years. How it unfolds will be far more complex than anything you could say in a 140-character tweet. Could this be the dawn of the Them decade — as in Us and Them? — © 2009 The New York Times News Service