I’m feeling wistful for Y2K. I’m nostalgic for those waning days of the 20th Century when we were frantic with worry about whether our computer calendars would somehow crack up when the clock struck midnight on 1/1/2000. Millions of labor hours and billions of dollars went into ensuring the survival of civilization as we knew it. We held our collective breaths as the ball dropped over Times Square, scrunching our eyes and holding our breath as we waited for the inevitable sounds of chaos.
Nothing happened. Silence broke out all over. Y2K was over! We Survived!
We were duped. Some were disappointed. We sighed and lurched onward into the first decade of the 21st Century.
We ignored all of the telltale signs of the real chaos simmering underneath the thin scrim of our success. Little did we know that while we were distracted with the mass hysteria wrought by outmoded software, the real enemies of peace and prosperity were slithering around the dark corners of civilization.
Just a year later, while we were still sitting back, self-satisfied that we had defeated the Y2K monster without a single missed appointment, the real monsters made a mockery of modern technology by using one of our finest tools against us. Using airplanes as weapons was a chilling abduction of one of the most powerful symbols of advanced civilization, the ability to fly. Using those weapons to destroy the World Trade Center, symbol of the free world’s economic and intellectual power, was a hollow victory for the most primitive, anti-modernity, anti-intellectual, barbaric forces on earth.
In our angry and confused response to this surprise attack — we should not have been surprised, we have learned, since our intelligence agencies knew far more than they let on — we willingly surrendered our shoes at the airport, our privacy in telephone conversations, our once-robust civil liberties, all in the misguided belief that if we make everyone miserable and fearful, we will somehow catch the bad guys. We managed to pull down the statue of Saddam Hussein while obliterating much of Baghdad’s culture. We’re still looking for Osama. He’s still chuckling about the Y2K bug.
We learned to fear things we never thought about before — anthrax in the mail, a sniper hiding in the trunk of a car, someone trying to set their shoes or underwear on fire in the seat next to us on a plane. We were so busy worrying about that guy with the beard and ragged jeans in the window seat that we paid no attention to the clever bankers in their expensive suits who were fashioning economic time bombs with our mortgages.
We tried to hunker down at home with our increasingly big TV screens, only to watch, helplessly, as some homes got swept away in hurricanes or tsunamis or foreclosures. In the first decade of the 21st Century, we learned to hate the lovely name Katrina, and our knowledge of geography expanded as we looked on maps to understand how a tidal wave could sweep across so many beaches to claim hundreds of thousands of lives.
Meanwhile, far away and largely out of sight, the longest war in American history continued to claim lives in Afghanistan.
We finally decided that we wanted Hope, we wanted Change, and we flocked to the polls in 2008 to elect a bright young star on the political landscape, a harbinger of our hopes for the future, our dreams of a “post-racial” world of peace, harmony and global prosperity. We then set about doing everything possible to make it impossible to govern effectively, ranting and raging on blogs and in town halls about how what we really want is no government at all, except for our own needs. Keep the government away from my Social Security. After two years of ranting, we went back to the polls to elect people to govern on the basis of their anti-government platforms.
The economic catastrophe of the late decade — a truly self-inflicted disaster — did far more harm to our sense of well-being than any terrorist plot. We responded by buying millions of iPads, the better to watch reruns of “Glee.”
Yes, I know, the purists are already saying, “But the decade retrospective should have been last year, 2009, because this year, 2010, is the first of the new decade.” Oh, good lord. We had this same arcane argument about chronological markers in the Year 2000 — was that the end of the second millennium or the start of the third?
Does it matter? No. I’ve done this brief retrospective on the first decade of the 21st Century (and the Third Millennium!) for one reason: HOPE! Surely, the next year and next ten have to be better!
Tomorrow night, as we ring out the old year, let’s really ring out the last decade. Let’s have a bonfire of old fears and mistakes and disasters and disappointments. Let’s throw our Y2K memories into the flames and laugh at our old naivete. We are older, wiser and more resilient than we thought possible back in those more innocent days of 1999.
Let’s plan to celebrate New Year’s Day 2011 with the hope of a fresh beginning, a wonderful new decade ahead, full of possibility for real change.
Next: resolutions for a new decade of prosperity and, eventually, peace!