Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy 010110

Quite the binary-code start to the new decade, isn’t it. Could this be the beginning of how humanity comes to live inside the Matrix?

A new decade within the new millennium. From a psychological point of view it feels more “new” than 1990 did, than all of the recent decades of the last century did, since they were all the old millennium getting older. I’m trying to embrace the sense of newness, (even as I absorb the fact that 20 years ago is 1990!)

Rebecca Mead in the New Yorker has the best overview about that issue of what to call this past ten years:

“In retrospect, it might be recognized as a troubling harbinger that, ten years ago, no consensus could be reached in this country on what to call the decade upon which we were about to embark. The ohs? The double-ohs? The zeros? The zips? The nadas? The naughties?”

I lean toward “aughts,” which was the common designation for 1901 to 1910 (well, other than Edwardian) although she sets the record straight on that 1800s English word:

“Arguably, a grudging agreement has been reached on calling the decade “the aughts,” but that unfortunate term is rooted in a linguistic error. The use of “aught” to mean “nothing,” “zero,” or “cipher” is a nineteenth-century corruption of the word “naught,” which actually does mean nothing, and which, as in the phrase “all for naught,” is still in current usage. Meanwhile, the adoption of “the aughts” as the decade’s name only accelerates the almost complete obsolescence of the actual English word “aught,” a concise and poetic near-synonym for “anything” that has for centuries well served writers, including Shakespeare (“I never gave you aught,” Hamlet says to Ophelia, in an especially ungenerous moment, before she goes off and drowns) and Milton (“To do aught good never will be our task / But ever to do ill our sole delight,” Satan declares near the beginning of “Paradise Lost,” before slinking up to tempt Eve).”

Yikes. Is there aught without consequence?

The “noughties” has been used quite a bit by the Brits. Tim Footman chose it for the title of his engaging cultural exploration of the current “decaditis”: the fallacy that ‘slicing the past up into periods of 10 years [is] a useful thing to do.” The Noughties: a decade that changed the world.”

The Telegraph has a very enjoyable, interesting, and UK-centric “100 defining cultural moments of the noughties” with some things that are on everyone’s list---the debut of the ipod, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter (Stephen Frye’s elevator tweet heard round the world), the premiere of The Office (the UK original)s, Harry Potter (multimedia), The Lord of the Rings films––and many more arcane moments, like Polaroid announcing they are ceasing production of instant film.

My issue with “noughties” is that it is far too whimsical for a decade that saw the large-scale murders of 9/11.

Newsweek produced “the Decade in 7 Minutes,” a U.S.-centric video that captures many news moments you have probably already forgotten.

And so from day 1 of the New Year we slide into day 2, and so it goes. We are now out of the aughts and into the teens, which come with overtones of adolescence awkwardness and first loves. As technology continues to expand our world for good or ill or silly, we may want to personify the next slice of ten years with as many human traits as we can.


dorki said...

... what to call this past ten years:
An interesting read, Ms. Mead's overview.

I would, however, propose an alternate terminology which may be more suiting to the calamities of this last decade.

They might be called the "uh-ohs" (as in "oops"). Although many things have gone far beyond the "oops" level, this decade's effect on us may be a more important point than numeric nomenclature.

I, for one, am glad to see the end of two uh-oh nine.