The New Year is approaching fast, and it’s a big one.
The year 2000 was the definition of a big New Year. It had everything: A change of century. Those two digits that we had all lived with for so long would be no more. Flying cars, interstellar travel, chicken dinner in a pill – and all the other promises made by the science-fiction industry of the 21st Century – were now on our doorstep. The culmination of Prince’s classic song 1999. Not to mention the impending collapse of civilization because computer scientists, decades before, left a small date problem for future generations to frantically solve.
The changeover from 2009 to 2010 was admittedly a lot less exciting than the dawn of the 21st century, and decidedly less fraught with peril. But there was one important ramification of that particular New Year: We could finally stop saying that we were living in the aughts. What a stupid way to describe a decade.
Now we stand at the cusp of the 2020s, and I find it almost impossible to believe. I remember sitting in my fifth-grade math class, learning to subtract across multiple zeros by calculating future years and ages, and deciding that the year 2020 would likely be the last year that I would have any fun. I’ll be 49 years old next year. Practically dead, at least in the estimation of my boyhood self.
What an idiot I was.
Today, I teach 10-year-old children. Though they are hardly perfect, they are most certainly smarter than I was at their age.
As we look ahead at the coming decade, it’s hard to predict what might happen. Though 2020 implies perfect vision, what we have is anything but a clear sense of the future. One hundred years ago, the 1920s opened with optimism and joy. The Roaring Twenties, complete with a soaring economy, flapper dresses, and a bright future.
Then 1929 hit. The stock market collapsed, and the world descended into the greatest economic collapse since the Black Plague. I’m willing to bet that very few people celebrating the New Year in 1920 saw that coming.
As we look back at our naïve selves in 2010, looking ahead at the next decade, I’m willing to guess that no one could have predicted some of the events of the last 10 years, either.
The Chicago Cubs won the World Series in 2016, ending an 108-year World Series championship drought. With the Red Sox winning the Series in 2004 (as well as in 2007, 2013 and 2018), the Cubs’ victory brought an end to the lovable, cursed losers of baseball. Now, any team that fails to win a championship is poorly run, inadequately financed, or lacking proper analytics. The Curse of the Bambino and The Curse of the Billy Goat were the last vestiges of an innocent time now lost forever.
Here’s a few things that seem to have been around forever but actually started in the 2010s:
Selfies. That’s right. Selfies became a thing over the course of the last decade, beginning with cameras in our phones and extending to the embarrassment of the selfie stick. Instead of taking photos of things like mountains and dogs and our loved ones, we have turned to taking photos of ourselves. God, we suck.
Memes took hold in the 2010s, too, offering up such artistic classics as Grumpy Cat, Distracted Boyfriend, a small boy on a beach making a fist, and a young girl standing in front of a burning house, smiling with glee.
It’s hard to imagine how the world survived before human beings could add short, pithy comments to these universally beloved palettes.
We also experienced some rare moments of collective attention over the course of the past decade. With the continuing fragmentation of the media and the decline of collective, unifying moments except for rare instances like the Super Bowl, we found solace in brief, universal firestorms like The Dress.
Remember that? Was it blue and black, or white and gold? The world raged over this important issue for days, but at least we raged together, united under a common banner of fashion stupidity.
Then there was the summer of the ice bucket challenge. Remember that? In lieu of donating money to a good cause, Americans decided that it would be better to embrace their personal narcissism and dump ice water over their heads while filming said action, so they could post something to social media that everyone else was doing so we could all do the same thing at the same time and look both cool and ordinary for doing it.
The 2010s were also the decade of innovation. The iPad was born in the previous decade, which seems remarkable since they are now everywhere. We scoffed at the name when the late Steve Jobs presented it onstage for the first time, complaining that iPad engendered thoughts of feminine hygiene products, but Jobs knew how stupid we are and how quickly we would accept this name. A decade later, Jobs is now gone but the name seems just fine, and the iPad has infiltrated every aspect of our life. I can’t tell you how excited I am to sit down in a restaurant and be handed an iPad rather than an old-fashioned paper menu.
These are the kind of innovations that we’ve always wanted. Not exactly interstellar travel or chicken dinner in a pill, but now I can see a picture of the food that I will eat and perhaps even play Words with Friends while waiting, rather than conversing with my actual friends sitting across the table from me.
Voice-activated home assistants like Amazon’s Echo were also born in the previous decade, and they have been a boon for parents everywhere. Alexa can’t change a diaper or empty a dishwasher, but when your child wants to know what planet has the most moons, you no longer need to find an answer for your curious little monster.
“I don’t know,” you say. “Ask Alexa. Our other parent. The smarter parent.”
The answer, by the way, is Saturn. We discovered 20 new moons around the planet this year, allowing it to overtake Jupiter in the moon department. Another important change in the 2010s.
What will the 2020s hold for us? There’s really no telling. If there was, I’d be in Las Vegas and so would you. Perhaps this will be the decade when the cure for the common cold is finally discovered. Maybe we’ll find a way to get blood out of a white shirt. Maybe we’ll find a few more moons orbiting Jupiter, allowing the gas giant to retake the mantle of most moons.
Personally, I’m hoping for chicken dinner in a pill.
Illustrated by Sean Wang