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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Millennial musing

I wonder whether a lot of people have noticed it, but the first decade of the new century (and millennium) is over.

Many of my readers are too young to remember the (frequently synthetic and exaggerated) worldwide excitement that surrounded the turn of the last century. People like me, on the other hand, who were old enough to remember well because it all seems to have happened yesterday, have reason for both mirth and bemusement as we look back.

There were ‘millennial’ expectations galore, from the most gloomy sort (the world is soon going to come to an end…) to the most adolescent fantasies (we are soon going to migrate en masse to Mars, computers are going to educate us while we sleep). Most of the hyperbolic expectations have been – predictably enough – belied. Despite 9/11 and the Airbus A380 and Facebook and bird flu and the Harry Potter phenomenon and the current recession and the rise of China, I think the world of 2010 would be entirely familiar to any worldly-wise man from 2000 A.D. If that man also happened to be someone with a lively sense of history (meaning one who can easily go back a few hundred, or even thousand years in his mind, and can therefore remember so many things that have happened so often before), 2010 could in fact have been boring by its over-familiarity – coming after all the hype and hoopla, that is to say.

I should like my readers to disagree with me here. I should like them to tell me about all the really epoch-making things that have happened in the last ten years: things that are going to change our lives drastically and forever, and therefore will be remembered vividly a hundred years hence. The way, I mean, that (picking great events roughly ten decades ago at random) events like the publication of Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, Einstein’s annum mirabilis (1905), the first aeroplane flight, the discovery of the electron, the passing of Queen Victoria, the Russo-Japanese war which cracked the myth of white invincibility after a three-century run, the first great successes of the women's suffrage movement, the early political upheaval in Russia (which would lead to the world being torn into two a little more than a decade later) shook up the world…? Or would they agree with me that it has in comparison been rather a damp squib?

10 comments:

Sunup said...

Dear Sir,

Unfortunately I don't think of anything or any event that would contradict your thoughts. If you consider any sector or field, there haven't been any significant or path-breaking findings or discoveries done this decade. At the start of the century I had a feeling that by the end of the current decade we would have hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles that would eventually replace the fossil fuel driven ones. But alas, most car majors are reducing their R&D funding on this project, let alone actually bring out a commercially viable model. Neither has the life sciences/pharmacy/clinical research domains brought in anything path-breaking. Even computing power hasn't seen the increase that it saw in the last decade of the 20th century. For example, a PC bought in 1990 could not run anything that came out in the late 90's. But the PCs that came out in early 2000's still are able to run most present day applications with some minor peripheral upgrades. Mankind goads over the fact that present day scientific pocket calculators have more computing power than the computers that controlled the manned Apollo mission. But has this immense computing power really led to anything path-breaking like the Apollo mission? The answer is no. Other than predicting weather, calculating complex mathematical equations, predicting the distance of unseen galaxies, and so on, the mind-boggling computing power hasn't contributed anything that significant, except maybe make technology more efficient. Even in the political sphere, there hasn't been any significant event this current decade. Bin laden still remains at large and the powerful NATO forces are still fighting the terrorists. All the corrupt/meek/power hungry/media savvy/not-so-corrupt politicians of the last century still continue on unchanged. The only change that I can think of is in the world of tele-communications. From the brick size single-line LCD display mobile phones of the early 2000s, we have now come to the age of 3G and video calls. But again, that's nothing really epoch-making.

Regards..

Subhasis Graham Mukherjee said...

we have progress
---------------------

Terrorism and Security have been the dominant themes of the decade. Making money out of fear of lives - nothing new though!

9/11 terrorism was carried out by box cutters. Somewhat like knives but sharper. since then, in quite a few flights, my nostril hair clippers have been scrutinised at length (considerable spending of resources) to make sure they have non-threatening rounded tips. Think about this - if people can cause problems with knives, some really well trained can do same or more harm with bare hands. We are not even talking Bollywood.

then came the liquid phase. throwing away baby milk. I made a trip before this lunacy, carried a drink from a restaurant right up to security. I was asked "what do you have there? take a sip". I didn't get it and kept saying "this is done, I don't mind chucking it". Stress kept rising and it took me a couple of rounds to realise that we are suspecting chemical and biological here - I would have to take a sip, even if it was the last thing I did in my life. I did and was allowed to chuck the drink at a bin near the inspector - much to everyones relief. Since then liquid has got a unique stature in security - today, I would have to chuck the drink before anything even starts. they can blow up planes with water!

and now, explosive powder in underwear. Lots of resentment and noise on the enhanced 'pat downs' and 'full body scans' for this. What's next? Get naked and have everything checked? Oh - there are metal implants in patients too. We have lots of room for progress and work here.

the toast of the decade though is the economy - a once in a century economic tsunami as per Greenspan, . Ratted out a lot of fraudulent and corrupt people - fully exposed the ills and maladies of the American free market system.

Whether we work towards correcting the situation or the system just 'evolves and adapts' to continue on a path of "more of the same" is something to watch in the coming decade.

--------------------

Subhasis Graham Mukherjee said...

hey, how do we count the decade? 00-09 or 01-10?

Suvro Chatterjee said...

There is indeed a difference of opinion, Subhasis, but you will admit that it doesn't impact anything I have said in this post.

The fact that I have got so few comments yet tells me that unfortunately most of those who read my blog either cannot look back (too young, or weak memories) or don't want to...

kallol mitra said...

Institutionalization of Corruption – Bofors.. Fodder Scam to Adarsh.. 2G..CWG..Sukna Land.Endless and possibly more to come. The ubiquitous ‘Jugaad’ or Manage has entered our DNA in the last decade.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

My canvas was much wider than merely India, Kallol. Nor are these serial scandals something earth-shaking, historically speaking, sad as they are.

Sigh. I wish I knew a lot more people who are both historically-literate as well as eager to argue over the significance of things. This is the problem with living in an age when few people have read anything outside technical books beyond school in their whole lives!

Anirban said...

Dear Suvroda
Artificial Heart(first self-contained replacement heart),Ares Rockets(to take astronauts to Mars and beyond) and the controversial retail DNA Test ?
BR
Anirban

Diptokirti said...

Dear sir,
How about the first afro-american president of the United States of America?
Yours sincerely
Diptokirti

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Good for you, Diptokirti. Yes, that, in the historian's sense, could truly be called a watershed event - and something that would have been unthinkable even in the 1960s.

But my question rests: can we think of too many things like that which have happened in the decade just gone by?

Shilpi said...

I've been thinking about this post of yours for a year and a half. When you'd put up your post I'd gone about for a week thinking furiously and looking up those history time-line books in the library (helped for a class, which was on the run if not for writing a comment)...but couldn't think of a thing.

Now I think one thing that people might look back on is how technology changed and/or dramatically influenced how we communicate. The means of communication altered during that particular decade especially, and for both good and bad as is the case with technology. But as you've said elsewhere and as I say: I would not want to go back to the days of snail mail or the days of page-boys or carrier pigeons...

And (leaving out the rubbish like FB and twitter and that sort of stuff) the good is there: email, chat, blogger, google....wikipedia, and youtube as well...it's not a single epoch making piece of work - but the changes came through that decade. Reminds me that I should have written this comment back in February right after you'd put up a post on your whimsy blog regarding knowledge and/or money and had talked to me. I think communication technology would count as an "epoch-making thing" that happened in those last ten years, wouldn't it?

Communication across miles and thousands of miles has been facilitated by technology, and especially where there are meaningful things to communicate - ideas, thoughts, events, stories...and so on, it's a boon.

Although there may be great works from the same period that might be disseminated at a wide scale later, the technological shifts brought about in how we communicate is the "epoch making" thing in terms of the historical point of view that I could think of for now from that particular decade... .