We all thought the world might end: fingers crossed and water stored and canned food stacked in piles.
But amid the candle wax and generators, Twinkies and halted breaths, the ball dropped on that wintry night with naught but cheers, flute clinks and sighs of millennial relief.
Thus emerged the decade, slithering out from a culture steeped in fear. Some unknown, vague fear. No one knew just why they would, but somehow the machines would fail. And the 21st century would be reduced to the ashes of the 20th’s mechanical decadence.
An entire civilization at the whim and mercy of machines. Such had been said before.
From the Luddites of old to the Vonneguts of yesteryear, man’s dependence on technology never garnered a consensus. Machines would replace us, impair us, betray and enslave us, so the critique would go. For Stanley Kubrick’s ape-man had never foreseen what future perils lurked in the vein of his calcium crutch in “2001.”
But life went on, the clocks ticked forward, trains all ran on time.
It was 2000, and our dependence on technology lived to see another century.
Trampling on the fears of the past, the decade went full steam ahead into the last frontier of virtual communication.
Technology was ours for the making, ours for the using ““ for our own benefit. For it was we who were the masters, not they in their perfunctory compliance.
We had survived the threat of technology’s failure, and we had survived to assert dominion over our creation.
The Internet wrapped the world in its tangled web of high-speed instantaneous transmission; entire oceans of distance traversed with the click of a mouse.
Much like those pioneering 42 lines of “Gutenberg” so long ago, a new revolution had sparked. With greater accessibility came greater possibility for commerce, leisure and communication.
No longer exclusive to the snooty shelves of literati, authorship and distribution spread in unprecedented ways.
Everyone and their mothers won their 15 seconds of broadband fame on YouTube, auto-tuned starlets crooned to virtual fans, Photoshop and Flickr made every high school sophomore with a digital camera a world-class photographer.
Such was the feat of the last decade ““ the mass distribution and broadcast of the everyman.
For anyone could be producer, consumer and star in his or her own virtual right. Writers, painters, bloggers and thinkers filled virtual libraries with googols of scrawls and Google search hits.
The world was audience, playwright and performer at once. Technology would serve at the whim of its ever-inventive, ever-indulgent human master.
Yet our tool became organ, our crutch a necessity. Our culture was wired even when we got Wi-Fi. We thought in tweets and status updates, collected experience through photograph tags.
It was as though the Web was our anchor to an otherwise unreality, like some pixelated ether or akashic record ““ as though without a 256k connection and the illusion of attention it may provide, our lives would somehow in some way be lacking.
This isn’t a condemnation or self-righteous polemic. I only mean to discuss the rather unique character of the past decade ““ a character this decade is prone to inherit.
And that is: The more convenient, the more luxurious, the more comfortable our Net-fetish makes us, the more compartmentalized we become.
Our dot-Net culture has been streamlined to fit how we define ourselves, how we connect. And because we are forging our identity through text fields on a profile page, we are better targets for marketing purposes. The mass communication that improved our lives is now a limitation on how we live.
The petty voyeurism and attention-seeking of the Net created a virtual environment in which our thoughts and our actions, unless accounted for on some Web site somewhere, were not as significant and perhaps not as real. For during that digitized decade, we learned to exist as bytes on a circuit and pixels on a screen.
Technology, then, never failed us. It did not, as James Cameron predicted, rise up against us. It never sabotaged, deceived or thwarted our schemes. It did exactly what we wanted it to. It made it easier for us to shape our lives entirely around it.
Perhaps I am being histrionic or projecting my own insecurity toward society at large. Perhaps I have completely misconstrued the past 10 years. But I am young and loud and thirsty for attention, and this last decade’s made it easier to get it.