How We Changed in the First Decade of the 21st Century

It sounds cliché, but I can’t believe we’ve already finished the first decade of the 21st century. Do you remember how it all began?

It was something called Y2K. We feared losing everything as the clock struck midnight entering the first day of 2000. Millions suspected that computers would shut down and all power would be suspended. Needless to say, it was an unfounded fear. However, the bridge into the new Millennium thrust us into a myriad of changes that have transformed the way we think and live. Below, I have ventured into a dozen new realities and suggested how they influenced us.

What Influenced Us and How Did We Change?

1. iPods and iTunes.

Music delivery changed with the introduction of the iPod. While we had already tasted iTunes, Steve Jobs introduced the first iPod in 2001. He talked about purchasing one song at a time, and having the ability to carry your entire music library with you everywhere you went. We were no longer stuck with an LP album or a CD. The iPod saved Apple and it transformed America. Life became a “cafeteria” instead of a traditional cafe where we’re forced to buy an entire plate or combo meal. Now, we can tailor our buying to the one song we want at the moment. This has affected how we make nearly every decision. We now expect life to be customized and portable.

2. The Terrorist Attack on NYC and Washington DC.

The War on Terror was waged on 9/11. That day in 2001 changed the rules for living globally. It was the first time foreigners leveled a successful attack on the continental United States. Unlike Pearl Harbor, it was an attack on civilians. As President Bush said, we are now in the new normal. Airports are different. Ballgames are different. That incident launched a whole new set of jobs in Washington: the Department of Homeland Security. We now expect life to be uncertain.

3. High Speed and Definition Technology.

High Speed Internet and High Definition screens both happened during the last ten years. Our TV, our website connections and our entertainment all changed. The bar was raised with offerings like Wii, X-Box and Blu-Ray discs. Life is more detailed and quicker than ever. A friend recently said to me, “I can’t even watch anything that isn’t High Def anymore.” I would add we don’t want to wait for anything either. We pace in front of our microwave ovens. And, we are only experiencing the beginning of this speed and definition swell. We now expect information to be fast and clear.

4. Distance Learning for Non-Traditional Students.

Baby Boomers decided to go back to school. Universities pursued them because they represented a huge population. Later, Gen. Xers did as well. This was made possible when schools established on-line courses and regional education centers. Today, there are more non-traditional students than traditional (18-24 years old). Educational institutions began to recognize that survival for them means innovative ways to reach new populations. I believe we’re entering a day when tenure means less and relevance means more. We now expect education to be relevant and accessible.

5. Reality TV.

With the dawn of the 21st century, Reality TV became a norm. It seemed the younger audience in America didn’t want the scripted acting and canned laughter we enjoyed since the beginning of television. Just ask the producers of “Survivor” or “American Idol” or “The Bachelor.” Improv provides something more genuine and spontaneous. Programs like “Whose Line is it Anyway?” demonstrated anything can happen. Obviously, some shows will make it and some won’t. But the fact that they’re on TV reveals we now expect—and long for—entertainment to be more authentic.

6. Human Genome Project.

This 13-year project was completed during the last decade. The goal was to identify all of the approximately 25,000 genes in human DNA, and figure out how they work. It was huge and its ramifications may only show up in the years to come. What are the milestones we can be sure of? This project accelerated scientific study into how to navigate the functions of the human body and it transferred related technologies to the private sector. This advanced subtly furnished us with the assumption we can control and change anything. We now expect to be the masters of our fate.

7. Social Media: MySpace, Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks to the birth of social media, Americans can talk about themselves all the time. We want to daily update our Facebook page or Tweet what we’re doing eight or nine times a day, even if it’s superfluous. We’ve become more aware than ever about how we “appear.” Our image, our reputation and our status have become more important than our substance. Many are more concerned with how they look than who they actually are. We now expect to be self-absorbed.

8. The Red Sox won the World Series.

I threw this one in just for fun. Can you believe Boston finally beat the “curse of the Bambino”? They’ve actually won two World Series so far in the 21st century. I believe this is merely a picture of something bigger in sports. Anything can happen. Steroids. Free agency. Referees gambling on games. Quarterbacks spending time in prison. Athletes going from hero to zero, and franchises (like the 2002 Anaheim Angels) going from zero to hero. We now expect nothing to shock us.

9. Hurricane Katrina.

Most would agree—Katrina was a curse and a blessing. The hurricane brought unprecedented damage to the South, but attracted unprecedented volunteers to the area. In fact, the episode revealed again the American spirit to volunteer and serve in crisis. The largest natural disaster in U.S. history attracted hundreds of thousands of ordinary people to rebuild LA and MS. In the midst of a plastic, artificial culture it taught us: we expect to do something that matters.

10. Kindle, Blackberry and iPhones.

Three words: Portable Communication Devices. We now carry the Internet with us 24/7, while on the road, on the go or on the fly. They have brought life to a drive-through state. We want it “to go.” We now can update our profiles in an airport in Singapore and let followers know we had pizza for lunch. Or, we can download a dozen books in Kindle. Or, we can break up with a boyfriend through a text message. While I see the benefits of this technology, it has created a “Google reflex.” We want to download and upload this instant. Delayed gratification may be history for our kids. We now expect to be connected at all times.

11. YouTube.

This was a huge addition to the last decade. Video content is now ubiquitous. Almost anything you may have missed seeing, can be found on sites like YouTube or Flickr. Libraries of videos are easy to find on any subject you can imagine—entertainment, information, personal stuff, pornography, you name it. What’s this done to our culture? Outside of making great videos accessible, it has spoiled us and transformed the media industry. We now expect content to be free.

12. The First Minority U.S. President.

When Barack Obama was elected as president, it marked the beginning of a new era. The election of the first African-American revealed something about us. America wanted change, but we also want leaders who are charming and handsome. We like a youthful, progressive image. We like good speakers. It is too early to tell how well President Obama will do as our president, but the fact that he was elected so readily and then given a Nobel Peace Prize after a few months in office reveals something. Despite our current, shaky reality, we expect to feel good about our future.

Here’s to making the most of the next ten years.


How We Changed in the First Decade of the 21st Century