When I was a kid in elementary school i became preoccupied with the first decade of the twenty-first century. Specifically I was intrigued by the notation that would be used. I remember “testing” date notions on a peace of paper, writing out 1/30/1, 1/30/01, and 1/30/2001 to see which looked better. I also made several inquires as to “how” we would refer to the decade. At the time we were in the “eighties’” (or the “fabulous eighties’” according to Jimmy Buffett), and the term “nineties’” seemed obvious for the next decade, but what about the one after that? The Zeros, or the Zeroties?
Later I learned that the term “auts” was used in the first decade of the twentieth century, but that never seemed to work for me. An ambitious marketing guy at Disney used the three zeros in 2000 to create the iconic mickey mouse silhouette, and claimed that the decade should be called the “mickies”. But that failed in 2001 when Mickey’s silhouette looked like he had “bed head”.
Of course the purpose of having a single simple term to reference a decade is to have shorthand to describe those things that were similar in that decade. Terms like “TV shows in the Eighties” or “Music from the Seventies”‘. But the irony is that while no good term has emerged as shorthand for the past 10 years, the nature of our culture now defies that single descriptive moniker.
Durning the twentieth century the world moved towards a homogeneous culture. In some places this was seen as the “Americanization” of culture because we here in the US became very good at exporting our way of life. This homogenization was largely driven because durning this time knowledge and entertainment came from fewer and fewer sources. As a result there were few choices in what we could watch and listen too.
In some cases that was not so bad. TV shows became “events” and one could rest assured that the next day at work or school everyone would have seen the same thing you saw. Music could be broken down into a few well defined categories, and ever major market could expect to have an FM radio station for most of those categories. But starting in the last half of the nineties things started to change.
What changed was three fold. First, the Internet opened a march larger world for people. Second, there was an explosion of 100+ channel cable and satellite TV services. Third, the rise of personal and on-demand media. These three things triggered something that had not happened in at-least 100 years and possibly much much longer, cultural diversification. By the first few years of the twenty-first century people no longer constrained by geographic limitation found communities of like minded people online. They found programing on cable and satellite the fit their preferred lifestyle. iPods for music and DVDs of entire TV shows allowed people to “build” their own preferred entertainment schedules without the secondary homogenizing effects of TV and Radio stations.
All of these things mean now looking back on the twenty-first century, it seems we are more different than we are the same in terms of our culture. That is a good thing, even if we don’t know what to call the decade.