Looking back at the past decade, plus the last year in science and math
January 1, 2020 7:36 PM   Subscribe

America is still living in the 2000s, don’t let the 2010s fool you. The end of the 2010s might be upon us, at least based on the constraints of linear time and language. Let go of the restrictions of the calendar, though, and it’s a decade that never began in the first place, because the 2000s never really ended. Instead, whatever distinct era we’re in now has been going on for nearly 20 years as a single, lurid blur, shaped by a media landscape that has changed how Americans perceive and understand almost everything. (The Atlantic) And if you're looking for your discussions and photos of the last decade, well ...

Try to look back and see how you experienced the past decade, and you might find a number of notable online voids, as the old internet died and we watched and did nothing. It’s 2020 — do you know where your content is? (Buzzfeed) It's a lot more than Google's graveyard, as tallied by Archive Team's Deathwatch.

A less depressing chaser: The Year in Math and Computer Science. Mathematicians and computer scientists made big progress in number theory, graph theory, machine learning and quantum computing, even as they reexamined our fundamental understanding of mathematics and neural networks. (Quanta Magazine)
posted by filthy light thief (37 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
And other hopeful (to me) news: Europe is talking about building a new kind of particle accelerator, a "Wakefield" one. Where the particles are accelerated to huge speeds in very short distances by the "wake" (think boat wake) of an intense laser or particle pulse in a plasma. This turns out to be a way to build x-ray lasers. Which have all kinds of uses, for example as imaging in medical or engineering.

Will (possibly) turn current facilities:
"...hundreds of metres if not several kilometers long"
to:
"...small enough to fit in the grounds of a hospital"
posted by aleph at 8:15 PM on January 1 [6 favorites]


I love the idea of "cultural decades," and trying to pinpoint the landmark events that define them. It makes you think about the spirit of an era, and what exactly lived and died in them. Speaking from a US perspective, I tend to peg them as:

1918: end of WWI
[Roaring Twenties]
1929: stock market crash, Great Depression
[Great Depression]
1939/41: either the Nazi assault on Europe or Pearl Harbor
[World War II]
1949: "year of shocks", China goes communist, Soviets get the bomb
[Cold War]
1963: JFK assassination
[The Sixties™, counterculture, Civil Rights]
1969: Altamont free concert
[LBJ, Nixon, Vietnam]
1980: Reagan elected
[The Eighties, Reagan/Thatcher, deregulation]
1989/91: either fall of the Berlin Wall or breakup of the USSR
[The Nineties, millennial optimism, early web culture]
2001: 9/11
[Iraq and the War on Terror, the blogosphere]
2008/10: Either Obama/the financial crisis or the attendant backlash that rolls into the Tea Party wave
[political dysfunction, rise of smartphones and social media]
2016/20: Either the birth of worldwide nationalism in the form of Brexit/Trump, or the year it was cathartically broken (...?)
[watch this space]

It gets kind of fuzzy towards the end, and inconveniently the signal year of 2016 (Brexit/Trump) is right in the middle of the 2010s. Hopefully this is the year we turn a corner instead of further entrenching the pathologies of the last decade or two.
posted by Rhaomi at 8:33 PM on January 1 [30 favorites]


The 80s began when Frank Zappa cut his hair.
posted by thelonius at 8:46 PM on January 1 [9 favorites]


Either the 2000s was a short decade that started with 9/11 and ended in 2008 with the great recession, or it was a long decade and ended in 2016 with the clusterfuck.
posted by tclark at 8:51 PM on January 1 [11 favorites]


I think the article has a point that the "2000s" ran long—but not so long we're still living in them. I'd put the turning point that ended the cultural decade somewhere after the Financial Crisis but before 2016; basically, it's when the left-leaning populism of Occupy faded and we were left with the right-leaning populism that gave us Trump. But I'm at a loss for a singular event like 9/11 that really delineates the new decade from that one.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:57 PM on January 1 [1 favorite]


I'm just super hyped we can now start referring to the time we are living in now as "the 20's" like we talked about the 80's and 90's. I figured at some point we were going to all agree on a catchy name for the first decade of the 21st century, but "the aughts" never caught fire and then when we got to the 2010s we just seemed out of practice, and didn't even mention decades like they were a thing anymore. By god that is going to change, this is the 20's, and we're gonna talk about how how things are happening now in the 20's, and mentioning how the 20's are different, or similar to, other decades like we used to.
posted by skewed at 9:03 PM on January 1 [24 favorites]


This is an interesting point, about the 00s not yet ending, and it matches my lived experience. When I was talking to my family about the new decade, the 2020s, my wife and I agreed - we are living constantly in the future. I can still remember my young self imagining the year 2000, and how I would be old then, and wow what would that be like? It is already 20 years later but my mental perception of time is still absolutely stuck in the 20th century, and everything since then has been "the future".

This future absolutely fucking sucks, but nevertheless happy to be here.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:19 PM on January 1 [14 favorites]


I think 2014 was the turning point, we just didn't notice it at the time. That was the year of gamergate and Russia annexing Crimea, and it seems just about everything connects back to those two events, harbingers of what was to come.
posted by blue shadows at 9:40 PM on January 1 [37 favorites]


> the first decade of the 21st century, but "the aughts" never caught

I was hoping fiercely that "the Naughties" would catch on for 2000-2010--or at least "the Aughties" and then maybe "the Tweenies" or something for 2010-2020.

But, no dice.

Current usage definitely favors the completely flavorless "2000s" and "2010s," as in the linked article.

A sign of the times . . .
posted by flug at 9:49 PM on January 1 [6 favorites]


Also agree that my personal perception of the world changed with the millennium and that is still largely the same now.
posted by blue shadows at 9:52 PM on January 1 [2 favorites]


I was hoping fiercely that "the Naughties" would catch on for 2000-2010--or at least "the Aughties" and then maybe "the Tweenies" or something for 2010-2020.

My grandfather used to use the word "aught" for zero when he was adding up columns of numbers, but very few people I ask today even now what the word means. I'm still at a loss as to what the decade 2000-2009 will ultimately be referred to as.

However, I fully believe that the decade 2010-2019 will ultimately be referred to as "the Teens".
posted by fairmettle at 10:23 PM on January 1 [1 favorite]


However, I fully believe that the decade 2010-2019 will ultimately be referred to as "the Teens".


But it's so weird we haven't been doing that for the last twenty years! For the fist two decades of my life, I feel like people would refer to the decade we were in constantly, not just retrospectively. Like "come on, this is the 90's!" Then Y2K screwed up everything, and now we just refer to the specific year in disgust, like "WTF 2019?"
posted by skewed at 11:36 PM on January 1 [6 favorites]


Like "come on, this is the 90's!"

I still refer to whenever now is as "the 90s"
posted by sudasana at 12:38 AM on January 2 [14 favorites]


From Europe, I could agree that 2001-2018 is one cultural "decade" or whatever you would call that unit, and also that the period is in a sense a long entropic blur. Internationally, Obama represented a return to the promise of the 90's - he got the Nobel prize just for that dream, but in the end he only barely held off the raging reactionaries. I'm not just thinking of the white middle-class Americans who voted for Trump and the millions of xenophobic Europeans, but also of those industries that should have been shut down twenty years ago already: the fossil fuel industry, the military-industrial complex, the unsustainable factory farmers, the drug industry, the populist media. And then there are the tech giants, that should have been regulated, but were allowed to hoard money and spread lies.
We had hope, but not a lot more. The climate summits were ineffective. Only few people felt the economic improvements and those improvements came with a huge cost to the environment.

But the huge shocks of Brexit and Trump started a reaction, and I think 2019 has been a turning point. The US 2018 elections, and the EU 2019 elections point to something new. Greta Thunberg is a different symbol from Obama, less dedicated to moderation, not friendly with Goldman-Sachs. In general, powerful women are stepping up. There is a long list, but I'm proud that Margrethe Vestager is on it, and her work directly addresses some of the important issues that infest our times.

I'm not optimistic. All the data tells us that climate change has crossed the point of no return. The next decade will be a hard struggle, and it may even last more than a decade for us to understand and deal with our new reality. But I do think we are on the track, finally.
posted by mumimor at 12:42 AM on January 2 [4 favorites]


basically, it's when the left-leaning populism of Occupy faded and we were left with the right-leaning populism that gave us Trump.

Characterizing Occupy as having faded as opposed to having been systematically derailed is unfair to both our hard-working tax dollars and our corporate overlords.
posted by joedan at 12:48 AM on January 2 [26 favorites]


To me, a new decade began between 2011-2013, which is when everyone got a smartphone and it began to change their behavior.

I work a boring night job where people would talk, listen to the radio, or even watch movies all night to stay awake. By 2013, my fellow coworkers stopped doing all that because they were clicking away at Candy Crush, or madly looking up torrented movie sites to watch crappy bootleg versions of movies that were currently playing in theaters.

In 2012, we kind of laughed when a young woman forgot her phone in someone's car and freaked out because she was going to have to be without it for 9 hours -- by 2014, that sort of addiction became the norm.

2013 was also the year when I noticed people believing Fake News, i.e. "Sandy Hook? Yeah, man, the government did that... I saw this video on Natural News that explains how they did it..." It's been a downhill slide into madness ever since.
posted by Chronorin at 3:06 AM on January 2 [17 favorites]


So much of the use of decades as signifiers revolved around pop music, which is no longer ubiquitous or dated the way it was.

Stores and offices play streaming music, not the radio, so the era when you would hear the latest big hit booming out of shop doors has faded. Somehow every independent coffee shop seems to still be playing indie rock from 10-15 years ago.

Record stores and big box stores don't promote music the way they did, and music magazines to the extent they still exist aren't on supermarket racks. Music videos still exist, but they're not broadly culturally significant with a few exceptions each year.
posted by smelendez at 4:51 AM on January 2 [5 favorites]


Maybe it's because I'm sitting in a house full of Nazi and Soviet ghosts, across the street from where all the women in the neighborhood were raped, down the street from where the local government used to torture prisoners in the basement, but a voice in my head says chatter about what demarcates decades will quickly vanish when the very bad thing happens. There will be all the stupid everythings of the before, then there will be the very bad thing, and then maybe there will be the after.
posted by pracowity at 5:20 AM on January 2 [11 favorites]


I thought that Occupy (from the outside, as an immigrant pursuing citizenship I was too scared to participate in Occupy) became Indivisible? Is that wrong?
posted by joannemerriam at 6:37 AM on January 2


I'm still at a loss as to what the decade 2000-2009 will ultimately be referred to as.

The Uh-ohs.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:46 AM on January 2 [10 favorites]


but a voice in my head says chatter about what demarcates decades will quickly vanish when the very bad thing happens. There will be all the stupid everythings of the before, then there will be the very bad thing, and then maybe there will be the after.

It's funny (well not really), but while I was writing my comment above, I was thinking that our times resemble the so-called long peace before WWI. It wasn't a peaceful time, terrible things were happening in faraway countries. But at the centers of the great empires there was peace and prosperity for the robber barons and other super rich while the majority struggled to manage from day to day. The natural frustration was slyly directed towards immigrants, specially those with other faiths than the majorities in each country. And there was even something similar to global warming, albeit not on as catastrophic a scale: the big industrial cities were hellish warrens of squalor, interspersed with polluting factories and covered in soot from the hundreds of thousands of coal-fired stoves.
There wasn't fascism because it wasn't necessary to seduce the masses into disenfranchising themselves: most governments were authoritarian, because only free men of a certain standing could vote.
posted by mumimor at 7:04 AM on January 2 [12 favorites]


I found a link I had wanted to link above at "squalor", it's John Oliver from April this year. I don't know how to make a direct link, so go to 9:06 to meet Frank Holmes, a successful owner of mobile home parks. Or just see the whole thing to getter a broader perspective on modern robber barons.
posted by mumimor at 7:52 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]


blue shadows: I think 2014 was the turning point, we just didn't notice it at the time. That was the year of gamergate and Russia annexing Crimea, and it seems just about everything connects back to those two events, harbingers of what was to come.

Others agree that it started around then, if not a bit earlier. A decade of revolt -- Meet the author who predicted the upheavals of the 2010s. (Vox, Dec. 26, 2019)
If there’s a word that sums up the past decade of politics, it might be “revolt.”

A revolt against elites. A revolt against liberal democracy. A revolt against the status quo. The seminal events of the 2010s felt like a collective “no” to the entire system.

In 2014, a book called The Revolt of the Public (Amazon, Goodreads) was published without much fanfare. The author was Martin Gurri, a former CIA analyst who spent most of his career studying politics and the global information landscape. The book has since become a favorite of Silicon Valley types as well as people interested in technology and politics (an updated edition was republished last year).

From our perch at the end of the decade, Gurri’s book reads like prophecy. He argued that the digital revolution would transform the information space and empower the public to participate more and more in politics. That empowerment would create an impulse to revolt against the dominant institutions of society — government, media, the academy, etc. — and the elites who run them.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:29 AM on January 2 [4 favorites]


I was really surprised that the first article didn't draw the obvious connection between the dawn of the reality show era in 2001 and the Trump presidency. Because somehow in 2016 lots of Americans, despite all evidence to the contrary, thought he was a smart, powerful, wealthy, successful businessman and didn't understand that that was just a fictional character created to entertain them.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:58 AM on January 2 [12 favorites]


Interesting point.

Wikipedia has what appears to be a good recap of reality TV, which seems to have started in truth in the 1970s, but definitely took off in the 1990s and 2000s, with The Apprentice starting in 2004 (Wikipedia).
posted by filthy light thief at 9:42 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]


Excuse me, but Survivor was the bottle they cracked on the eternal cruise ship of the reality show.
posted by GoblinHoney at 11:03 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]


Agreed.

I wasn't clear in my prior comment. I meant that reality shows were big before Trump, whose show started in 2004.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:13 AM on January 2


I'm still at a loss as to what the decade 2000-2009 will ultimately be referred to as.

Considering the first decade of the 20th century is referred to as "The 1900s" and the second as "The 1910s" I think there's just no good solution to this terrible problem.

But it's the 20's, so it's not our problem anymore!
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 2:10 PM on January 2


I'm inclined to agree with what tclark said upthread. The 00s either ended in 2008 or 2016.

As for 2008, culturally speaking, the internet era and the smartphone era are just not that different, despite the gulf of the financial crisis that separates them.

As for 2016, I hate to tie this to an election, but it really was one single moment that felt unthinkable beforehand and inevitable afterwards.

So by my reckoning, the long decade of the Reality Era ran from 9/11 to Trump. After which the Post-Fukuyama Era of the 2010s finally began in earnest.

Who knows what event will really start the 2020s, but judging by the oppositional "all the ghosts of history's greatest villians have returned" vibe the 2010s have so far, it's not going to be pretty.
posted by cirrostratus at 2:49 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]


My point was not that Trump made reality shows a thing. My point was that reality shows made Trump a thing to millions of Americans. (Yes, I know lots of folks knew who he was before, but the current incarnation of Trump as understood by the idiots who voted for him was crafted by The Apprentice)
posted by hydropsyche at 2:50 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]


Exactly. The 00s were a Nigerian Prince of a decade that created a blatant facsimile of real life in order to opt everyone into its suckers list. It worked too, we spent the 00s without any real meaningful counter cultures which is really what defined every decade since the 50s.
posted by cirrostratus at 3:00 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]


So now if someone says "the twenties" it's ambiguous whether they mean the 1920s or 2020s. I propose the solution that we bring back flappers asap. If you need me I shall be bobbing my hair!

(admittedly 80% of my plans for anything incidentally involve bringing back flappers)
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 4:09 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]


I humbly submit that decades have became more inexact measures of cultural time because since 2000, every year has lasted approximately a decade-plus.
posted by General Malaise at 5:00 PM on January 2 [4 favorites]


cirrostratus makes a good point about countercultures defining a decade. They do define the aesthetic landscape of our memories of a decade, but they're markers in our minds because they went away. Like, "Hey, remember the 90s? Grunge!" If grunge were still with us, it would not mark the era.

Most pertinent to the meaning, rather than look, of an era are the things which don't go away but instead get rolled into the hegemony: right now, I'd include nerd culture, LGBT acceptance, and the end of tolerating sexual assault.

As subculture becomes hegemony, it begins to assert power over people, and it gets neutered at the same time. Wish I had a pithy/insightful comment about it, but it's just complicated.
posted by Sterros at 9:21 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]


The 2000s ended when computing power became affordable enough to make virtualization, both as stateful VMs and stateless containers, seamless and more efficient than the legacy physical machines and appliances they replaced. Like most eras, this wasn’t evenly distributed.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:33 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


To me, a new decade began between 2011-2013, which is when everyone got a smartphone and it began to change their behavior.

Completely agree. From 2008 until 2014, I remember watching with amazement hope quickly we were letting smartphones into every moment of our lives. I moved from DC to LA in '08, and the pictures from the going away party were all taken with digital cameras. There's ONE iPhone in the room, Nick the early adopter who we all thought was dumb for spending so much money on a huge phone when the trend for years had been smaller and smaller dumb phones. I moved from LA to SF IN '14, and the pictures from the going away party were all taken with smartphones. Each of my kids has a smartphone by then. My parents have smartphones. I find misplaced smartphones at the beach, in Yosemite, on park benches, in restaurants, on the top of the mail box. Invention-to-ubiquity was fast as hell.

Along the way: That first concert where I realized more people were holding up phones than weren't (Portishead at the Shrine in 2011). Meeting the first couple who were open about having met on Grindr. Seeing someone walk into a telephone pole while texting for the first time. Being late for a meeting and video conferencing in from the airport for the first time without a laptop or even having to sit down. Even seeing my ex husband try to quickly flip his phone when a texted image would show up on the screen. Yeah, smartphones man. We've definitely grafted them onto and into our lives this past decade.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:11 AM on January 4 [3 favorites]


From upthread: Others agree that it started around then, if not a bit earlier. A decade of revolt -- Meet the author who predicted the upheavals of the 2010s. (Vox, Dec. 26, 2019)
Sean Illing

Does this last decade remind you of any previous period in history?

Martin Gurri

Disruption and turbulence happens in cycles. I’ve heard this decade compared to the ’60s, but my contrarian take is that this is actually a worse situation in some respects. I’d compare this moment to 1848.

In 1848, the French government basically tried to put the lid on the revolution and recreate the old system, the old regime. And it all blew up. And it blew up all across Europe. It unleashed a whirlwind of chaos and revolutionary conflict. And all of this was happening as the world was beginning to move into the Industrial Age.

The thing about the ’60s, which I lived through, was that there was at least a fairly clear sense of what people were against but also what they were for. There were positive ideals and goals and projects. People were aiming for something. I think we’re missing this element today, and it worries me for all the reasons I stated earlier.

And to be clear, there are plenty of amazing things happening right now. We still live in a wildly affluent society and I don’t want to discount that. But our government and our institutions have not adapted to the digital age, to this new world, and that’s extremely worrisome.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:22 AM on January 6 [1 favorite]


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