Date: Mon, 13 Dec 1993 13:53:05 CST From: Dennis Baron 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 decade. 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 next. 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. -----