Sunday, December 27, 2009

Wrapping It Up, Part I

The Sunday between Christmas and New Years' is one of my favourite days in the calendar year. It's a day of utter relaxation, heavily seasoned with great meaty chunks of newsprint. The papers stop reporting the news and start analyzing it--which is, even if they don't yet realize it, the only thing that will keep them afloat in a world where news is tailored to each online "customer" and delivered, gratis, instantly.
The analysis is even more prevalent this year, given that by popular demand, it's "the end of the decade". (Just as January 1, 2000 wasn't the beginning of the decade, December 31, 2009 won't mark its ending. Unless, of course, you start counting things at zero. Go ahead, count your, two, three, four, five. See?)

Never mind. As usual, my brain is wired differently from just about everyone else's. I'll go along with everybody's (wrong) assertion that 2010 marks the beginning of a new decade. So let's look back, shall we?

In 2000, 9-11 was an emergency service and a Porsche and nothing else. Just two days ago, Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallah attempted to explode an airplane over rural Southwestern Ontario. That he failed, that the vast majority of attempted terrorist attacks have failed since September 11, 2001, does not in any way mitigate the threat that the perpetrators of that atrocity pose to Western nations. Our enemies are--so far--pretty stupid. But they have three traits that more than offset their stupidity: they are cunning, they are endlessly patient, and they do not care about whom they kill or what collateral damage they cause.

All that said, our collective response to 9/11 and subsequent attacks--not just the biggest but nearly the only geopolitical story of the 2000s--has been gross overkill in some respects and woefully inadequate in others. The world was sold a bill of goods on the second Iraq war, the cost of which (three quarters of a trillion dollars, by the end of this year) would have been much better put to use shielding the American economy from the meltdown that had been predicted as early as 2003 and scoffed at until it happened. Meanwhile, we've beefed up security by making sure you can't take toothpaste on a plane; we've re-targeted Afghanistan, the original shelter for the 9/11 masterminds, but as of this writing still refuse to use anywhere near the level of force necessary to prevail, nor expand the battlefield in any meaningful way.

A deep sea-change has occurred in Canadian politics. The Conservative Party, which in 2000 was still fractured and fractious, has risen from near-rump status to power. Minority power, granted, but Stephen Harper may as well have a majority, given the way he's governing and the weak-kneed opposition to same. Nobody, not even Stephen Harper, could have imagined this ten years ago.
A few conservative values have returned from the exile of the Chretien/Martin years: pride, especially military pride, in Canada; a repudiation of unfettered multiculturalism; a closer and more trusting political relationship with the United States.
But the National Post surely overstates things when it says "We Got Our Country Back". (Let's not forget that the National Post itself nearly disappeared this past year). After all, the gays are carrying out their radical agenda by marrying each other the way straights have for centuries. Canadians, according to a recent poll, are overwhelmingly satisfied with their commie-socialist health care system. And Canada's attitude vis-a-vis the U.S. has only thawed insofar as Barack Obama is not George W. Bush. It occurs to me that both the United States and Canada are in the process of re-centering themselves over the past few years. The 'natural governing parties' of both countries are on hiatus as we close out the 2000s and it's as if we're picking and choosing values and positions from 'the other side' that we can accept and live with. In the United States, this is accomplished slowly and with great psychodrama: the promised health care bill that was supposed to bring America on par with the rest of the developed world is deeply, almost fatally, flawed thanks to great stirring protests from the Right. In Canada, as is typical, things have been much more quiet. We haven't exactly warmed to Stephen Harper and his Conservatives, but at least we're not afraid of him any more.

Technology has moved faster in this past decade than at any time in human history. Consider computers: despite massive increases in memory, they still looked much the same, and were used for much the same things and in much the same ways, in 2000 as in 1990. iPods, but a twinkle in Steve Jobs' eye in 2000, have revolutionized the music industry to the point where many bands don't even bother releasing CDs any more. Television has been much slower in migrating online, but it's beginning to catch up, just as the concept of 'online' is beginning to migrate off your desk or laptop and into your pocket or on to your wrist. It's a pitifully safe prediction that in ten years, most of us will spend every waking moment within reach of cyberspace.
We're still trying to figure out what to do with our new toys. In 2008, the #1 application for the iPhone was the ridiculously useful iFart, which turns your phone into a $300 Whoopee cushion. In 2009, the most popular activity on Facebook--a site beyond imagination ten years ago--is planting virtual crops and watching them grow. And on Twitter, you can keep up with the fascinating minutiae of your friends' increasingly transparent lives.

Perhaps the biggest cultural change wrought in the past ten years: the world of free stuff. In 2000, Robert Heinlein's TANSTAAFL--"There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch" still largely held sway. Now, you may still have to buy your lunch, but you can download movies free of charge even before people are allowed to pay to watch them in the multiplex; every album ever released is available online at zero cost; and anyone who feels morally compelled to pay for these things anyway is dismissed as a fool.

Depending on your age, you either find all this unremarkable or deeply frightening. Teenagers today think nothing of posting lascivious pictures of themselves online for the world to see and detailing their entire lives to their social networks. "Privacy" is a parental word, a chafing restriction, something to be ridiculed even, in a world where one's self-image is inextricably bound to one's popularity. I know people who have over a thousand Facebook 'friends'...I often wonder exactly how many are friends and how many are actually status symbols. In my more angst-ridden moments, I wonder if there's a difference anymore.

There is a generational chasm widening before our eyes as the closely-held values of our parents are being overturned. This occurs every generation, of course: it's entirely natural and to be expected. But only now are we hyperconnected and much more able to observe it happening, which drives up the stress level considerably.

I'd like to tell the older generation, of which I am now--in 2009--officially considered a part, that all is not lost and in fact much is being gained. Kids today are much more politically aware than we give them credit for; the sense I get is that they're just waiting for the rest of us to die so they can take control and drag the world, kicking and screaming if necessary, into a more enlightened era. The environment is an important issue to the younger set...when I was born, it was an afterthought when it was thought of at all. Much has been made of the narcissism of the culture of self-esteem; virtually ignored is the increase of empathy as a result of social networking. Give the yowwens control of the world economy and (I hope, at least) they won't spend their time deriving endless derivatives to make themselves rich and the rest of us poor.

As ever, we remain obsessed with celebrity scandal. I'm beginning to reluctantly accept that this is a constant in human society and not something we can ever outgrow. (Check out the graffiti on the walls of Pompeii: it looks just like And that's all I'm going to say about that.

To Be Continued...

1 comment:

Rocketstar said...

Did you happen to see the 60 minutes piece two weeks ago on how we are beginning to grow body parts from stem cells, truly grwo any body part. They have already grown a new esophagus. YouTube or search 60 minutes Growing Body parts or I think i have the link in a future draft post.

Life is getting really interesting.