Date: Mon, 13 Dec 1993 13:53:05 CST

From: Dennis Baron debaron[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]UIUC.EDU

Subject: name that decade

Thanks for all your responses to my query. I decided to do my radio

commentary on the subject and have silently included some of your

suggestions. Herewith follows, if you care to read on, the commentary:

2001: The Next Decade

We're used to dividing our lives according to the decimal

system, into millennia, centuries, and decades. All three

of these categories will come together soon in a kind of

triple witching hour when on the stroke of midnight at the

end of December, in a few short years, we simultaneously

enter the 21st century, the third millennium, and the next


These units of time are arbitrary and not always very

precisely defined. The 21st century, for example, will not

technically begin until January 1, 2001--which is why Arthur

Koestler didn't simply name his novel "2000." When the

1800s ended on Dec. 31, 1899, the London Times published a

small notice warning its readers that the 20th century

wouldn't begin for another year, while its front page banner

headline announced that the new millennium was at hand and

reported the various festivities that accompanied it.

Even if purists and the public disagree over when to

start the party, we like to think of these chronological

dividing points as significant in the historical scheme of

things. A new millennium predisposes the pessimists among

us to focus on the destruction of the world. They climb

into trees and wait patiently for the end. For such

activities it's important to determine exactly when the next

thousand years is to begin. Otherwise you could be spending

a lot of unneccessary time in a tree.

We like to label past centuries on the assumption that

every hundred years has a focus or agenda or theme: the 17th

century brought us the Renaissance; the 18th was the age of

enlightenment; with the 19th came the industrial revolution;

and of course the 20th century brought modern times. The

coming of a new century forces us to think modern

thoughts--or maybe "postmodern" ones, since the word modern

seems to have lost much of its up-to-dateness.

We may very well wind up calling the 21st century the

age of virtual reality. We will have gone from the Age of

Aquarius to the Age of Nintendo. Already futurologists

cheerfully see a society tied together by electronic bonds

and information superhighways that will allow people to

work, play, love, shop, drive, and have their teeth cleaned

by computer. Macintosh has just come out with a

revolutionary new product that will even let you watch

television on a computer. Instead of waking up everyday,

we'll just log in; the microchip will do the rest.

We characterize decades as well as centuries. The 50s

were a time of conformity, family values, and bad hair. The

60s brought nonconformity, the disintegration of the family,

and worse hair. We spent the 70s studying the 50s and 60s,

and the 80s, the "me" decade, looking for perfect hair. In

the 90s half of us lost our hair worrying about what comes


Which brings me to the question for today. What do we

call the first decade of the next century? If this is the

90s, will it be the 0s? The 0-0s? The zeros? The

oughties? The singletons? The naughties?

The first years of the 20th century, following the gay

90s, didn't call themselves anything, so they're no help.

World War I interrupted things, and decade-naming didn't

return until the roaring 20s, which was followed in some

people's lingo by the dirty 30s, a reference to the Dust

Bowl. The 40s were given over to the War, and of course

black and white movies. If computers really take over our

lives by 2001 I suppose we might call the next decade the

digits. In the spirit of the roaring 20s we could call it

the digital 0's, but that sounds too much like a brand of

cereal. So does the post-90s decade, for that matter.

Most time periods are named in retrospect, so perhaps it

would be best to let time pass and see what happens. If

we're lucky enough, the next decade will be totally dull and

boring, and it will wind up with no name at all.