It seems like yesterday we were excitedly putting on our party hats, hoarding food and purchasing firearms in preparation for the dawning of a new millennium.
It's been nearly 10 years since we left the '90s. We can now laugh at the near-panic leading up to 2000, when so many believed all those numbers flipping on the calendar would ruin America's computers, causing power outages, the loss of bank records and a nuclear first-strike against Liechtenstein.
Now, as we prepare to journey into another decade, we face another potential worldwide emergency, and this one can't necessarily be solved by heroic computer techs.
This decade needs a name.
Gone are the automatically named decades that just rolled off the tongue: the '90s, '80s, '70s, etc. They were easy to name and easy to define (grunge, bad fashion; big hair, bad fashion; disco, bad fashion). And now we only have six months left to come up with a name, whether it's the double-oughts, the two-nothings, the OOs, the 20 Os "... the decade in which we were supposed to have jet packs and moving sidewalks.
Setting aside the demerits of our collective desire to reduce things of immense scope to names and short catchphrases — what will future generations call this decade? Especially with the verbal awkwardness of all those zeros.
"I don't know what we're going to call it in a two-word catchphrase," says Dann Pierce, a pop culture expert and communication professor at University of Portland. "Somebody could call it the "oh-oh" decade, as the verbal intonation close to "uh-oh. That's what I use with my students. And they still can't figure it out."
So, in our collective quest to name the years 2000-2009, perhaps we should turn from a simple numerical answer to one with more substance. After all, the '20s were roaring and the '30s depressing.
The '40s, now featuring the "Greatest Generation," according to Tom Brokaw, were defined by World War II.
The '50s were about the optimism of the suburbs, science, bomb shelters and rock 'n' roll.
The '60s have more nicknames than Shaquille O'Neal: the counterculture age, the decade of change, the swingin' '60s, the Vietnam era, the civil rights era, and about 10 others.
The indulgences of the '70s made it the Me Decade. The '80s were supposed to be the "Us" decade, but ended up being the Reagan era (or, frighteningly the Day-Glo and big hair decade).
We're still working on the '90s, though it's no stretch to think of it as the Internet age, or at least the beginning of it.
"We're still trying to figure out what the heck this decade was about," says Melissa Camacho, an associate professor of Broadcasting and Electronic Communication Arts at San Francisco State. "There's no one thing that really defines this decade, except Sept. 11 and violence. It really lacks the lightheartedness. This decade was supposed to be the technological decade, but instead it was about war and a bad economy. The iPhone was great, but people can't afford it. Basically I call it the decade of contradictions."
That's not very snappy.
"This decade has seen an awful lot happening, and not a lot of it has been good," says Kevin Howley, an associate professor or Media Studies at Indiana's DePauw University. "I suggest we dub the decade the M&Ms. As in MM for 2000 and M for murder, malady, malcontents, misery. You get the picture."
Catchy, but depressing.
Rise of terrorism
As Camacho and Pierce both point out, sometimes it takes years of perspective to properly summarize a decade. Sometimes it can't be done in 10-year intervals. Pierce says the first half of the double 00s will be remembered as the era of the War on Terror; the last part for economic chaos.
Camacho is a bit more optimistic, agreeing about 9/11 defining much of the decade, but noting that people's need for escape through personal communication really exploded toward the end, becoming a serious part of millions of lives.
"If I had to pick one thing to identify pop culture in this decade, it's the social networking platform," she says. "We're starting to see a re-connection of people, but on a different platform. It was in the second half that people started relaxing and getting into their social network. And there's plenty of positives (moving forward). We have the first African-American president. People are realizing they need to pay attention to their government. There's an environmental awareness that was never there. I've heard people call it the green decade."
There's a lot of possibilities to ponder the next six months.
Just as long as no one ends up calling it the Tweeting Decade.
Reach Tony Hicks at thicks @bayareanewsgroup.com.
Have an idea what this decade should be called? Drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org. Whomever submits what we think is the best suggestion will receive a one-night's stay on New Year's Eve at the recently renovated Hyatt at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco and breakfast for two at Knuckles at the Wharf.