Issuu on Google+

DEFINING THE DECADE [ 2000 – 2009 [ Edited by George Decagon

MICA Press 1300 W Mount Royal Avenue, Baltimore

Š 2012 MICA Press All rights reserved. Copyright under Universal Copyright Convention. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without prior permission of the publisher. Published by MICA Press An imprint of Maryland Institute Publishing Co. 1300 W Mount Royal Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21217 Cover and book design by DeAnna Yarbrough Edited by George Decagon ISBN: 1-880559-99-4 Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 98-70414 Printed in the United States of America

[ TABLE OF CONTENTS [ Introduction by Timothy Noah page 01

44 Things That Changed Our Lives in the Aughts by Jocelyn Noveck page 03

The Catchphrase of the Decade by Ron Rosenbaum page 09

Trying to Be Responsible and Cutting-Edge, Too by Alice Rawsthorn page 13

The Decade of Cool — Brought to You by Technology by Renay San Miguel page 16




You’d think by now the English-speaking world would have given this decade a name. Back in the early 1980s, the New York Times tried to pre-empt all future uncertainty by pronouncing it the “ohs.” But nobody bit. Robert Thompson, president of the Popular Culture Association, told Harry Wessel of the Orlando Sentinel that a consensus term would start to gel before the end of 1999. More than a year later, Andy Bowers of National Public Radio was still taking suggestions. Four additional years have passed since then. Half the 21st century’s first decade is gone and still no one knows what to call it. The most logical candidate is a term often used to describe the first decade of the 20th century: the “aughts.” But despite heavy promotion from journalists and others, it’s never caught on. In 1996, Barbara Walraff of the Atlantic reported in her “Word Court” column that there was much talk of calling the coming decade the “double-ohs.” That never caught on, either. Scott Pederson, a self-described “entrepreneur,” somehow managed to get a trademark on “Naughty Aughties,” which is even more creaky than the “aughts,” and he’s been promoting that term energetically ever since. Strike three. Because there is no name for the present decade, people seeking to describe the spirit of the times often resort to substituting the name of the entire century (or, in extreme cases, the entire millennium). This is pompous and stupid. Some people would go further and say that measuring time as a progression of decades, each with an individual identity, is pompous and stupid. I don’t go that far. I can live with the oversimplification inherent in using a phrase like “the ‘60s” to describe the political and cultural tumult that characterized the last few years of that decade, or “the ‘20s” to describe the reckless stock investments and giddy lifestyles of the wealthy that would end with the stock market crash and the Great Depression. I’m even ready to characterize the current decade as an era when the United States came under attack from Islamist terrorists and responded (not always wisely) by waging war in the Middle East.

[ 01 [


But to refer to these as challenges of the 21st century presumes that we know a lot more about what will happen during the next 95 years than we really do. Imagine somebody attempting to define the 20th century in January 1905. He would know nothing about the rise of Soviet communism and German fascism, and therefore nothing about the butchery of Stalin and Hitler. He’d know nothing about mass production of the automobile. He would never have heard of Albert Einstein or his theory of relativity. He might resist having his home wired for electricity, out of the common fear that it was more dangerous than gaslight. He would likely consider the United States to be a lesser world power than Great Britain and France. He’d have no idea that the airplane would soon become an instrument of war and, eventually, a vehicle commonly used for ocean crossings. He would never have listened to a radio, or watched television, or gone to a movie theater and heard the actors speak. If he visited Philadelphia, he’d be dazzled by its wealth and sophistication. He would, in short, have none of the information he needed to describe accurately the coming century. He might give you a decent description of the aughts. But he’d have to know what to call them. Interestingly, he might demonstrate the same difficulty avoiding the phrase “20th century” that we currently show avoiding the phrase “21st century.” That’s because (at least according to some historians) the term “aughts” was mainly a retrospective term applied after that decade was over. Assuming that’s true, there’s no reason we should make the same mistake twice.

[ 02 [


44 THINGS THAT CHANGED OUR LIVES IN THE AUGHTS BY JOCELYN NOVECK Was it only a decade ago that a blackberry was a mere summer fruit? That green was, well, a color, and reality TV was that one show sandwiched between music videos on MTV? There were, of course, huge political and social upheavals that roiled our world in the past decade. But there were also the gradual lifestyle changes that you don’t always notice when they’re happening—kind of like watching a child grow older. Here’s an alphabetical look at 44 things that changed our lives since the beginning of the millennium: AIRPORTS: Remember when you didn’t have to take your shoes off before getting on a plane? Remember when you could bring a bottled drink on board? Terrorism changed all that. ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE: From acupuncture to herbal supplements to alternative ways of treating cancer, alternative medicine became more mainstream than ever. APPS: There’s an app for that! The phrase comes from Apple iPhone advertising, but could apply to the entire decade’s gadget explosion, from laptops to GPS systems (want your car to give you directions to Mom’s house in Chinese, or by a Frenchwoman named Virginie? There was an app for that.) AARP cards ... for boomers! Some prominent Americans turned 50 this decade: Madonna. Prince. Ellen DeGeneres. The Smurfs. Michael Jackson—who also died at 50. And some prominent “early boomers” turned 60: Bruce Springsteen and Meryl Streep, for example.

BLOG: I blog, you blog, he blogs ... How did we spend our time before blogging? There are more than 100 million of these Web logs out there in cyberspace.

[ 03 [


BLACKBERRIES: Considered essential by corporate CEOs and moms planning playdates. Introduced in 2002, the smartphone version is now used by more than 28 million people, according to its maker, Research In Motion Ltd. BOOK CLUBS: Thanks in part to Oprah Winfrey, the decade saw not only a profusion in book discussion clubs but a growing reliance on them by publishers. CABLE: Cable 24-hour news made the evening network news seem quaint, cable dramas reaped Emmys ... and at decade’s end, even Oprah was making the move to cable. CAMERAS: Remember those trips to get film developed? Nope? Even your grandmother has a digital camera, and she’s probably e-mailing you photos right now or uploading them to a photo-sharing site. CELEBRITY CULTURE: Celebrity magazines fed a growing obsession with celebrities and the everyday minutiae of their lives. By decade’s end, we were still obsessed, though Britney Spears and Angelina Jolie had ceded many covers to reality stars like Jon and Kate Gosselin. Celebrity Web sites like TMZ took hold mid-decade. CELL PHONES: Cell phones are now used by more than 85 percent of the U.S. population and for some have replaced land lines entirely. On the downside, they’ve made cheating on a spouse more difficult—just ask Tiger Woods. CHEFS: Chefs are hot! The Food Network, whose viewership tripled this decade, reeled in viewers with high-voltage personalities like Rachael Ray and Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagasse and Giada De Laurentis. Meryl Streep starred in a cinematic paean to the late Julia Child. CONNECTIVITY: As in, we’re all expected to be connected, wirelessly, all the time Boss e-mails you on a Sunday? Better answer, unless you’re off in Antarctica — you have no excuse. COUGARS: A new TV series called “Cougar Town” focuses on a phenomenon that gained its name this decade: women dating younger men.

[ 04 [


CROCS: Those ubiquitous plastic clogs debuted in 2002 and became the shoes you loved to hate. Kids love ‘em, but there are Web groups dedicated to their destruction. Not to be deterred: First lady Michelle Obama, who wore them on vacation in 2009. DATING: Dating was transformed like everything else by Internet sites, rendering other ways of meeting people obsolete. And it wasn’t just the territory of the relatively young: Seniors found love online, too. EMBARRASSMENT ENTERTAINMENT: Embarrassment has always been part of comedy — you need only think of Don Rickles — but this is the decade of cringe-worthy Larry David in “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Ricky Gervais, and of course Sacha Baron Cohen, who as Borat and Bruno shamed perhaps the entire country. FACEBOOK: Can you believe this social networking site was once limited only to Harvard students? Now it’s a time-sucking obsession for more than 300 million users globally and a whole new form of social etiquette: Who to friend on Facebook? FAT: This was the decade that fat became the enemy of the state. New York City banned trans fats, and Alabama — second in national obesity rankings—introduced a tax on overweight state workers. FOODIE: It’s not just that guy in the White House who liked arugula — this was the decade of the foodie, when we all developed gourmet palates. Even a burger became a gourmet item — as in Daniel Boulud’s truffle burger, stuffed with foie gras and short ribs. GOING GREEN: From the kind of light bulbs we use to the kind of shopping bags we carry to the cars we drive, “going green” took hold this decade. Now, it’s not strange to hear a schoolkid tell a parent to use a cloth grocery bag. GOOGLE: This was the decade that Google became a part of our brain function. You know that guy who was in that movie — when was it? Just Google it.

[ 05 [


GPS: We can’t get lost anymore—or at least it’s pretty hard, with the ubiquitous GPS systems. But you’d better type in your location carefully: One couple made a 400-mile mistake this year by typing “Carpi” rather than “Capri.” HELICOPTER PARENTING: Translation: helicopters hover, and so do many parents. After years of obsessive attention to safety and achievement of the youngest children, some said a backlash was under way. INFORMATION OVERLOAD: An explosion in Internet use led to an overload of information about practically everything. It’s at our fingertips, but is it accurate? Some call it part of a larger phenomenon, namely ... INSTANT GRATIFICATION: Otherwise known as being able to get anything you want within an instant. Often referred to as a theme of the decade. IPODS: An icon of the digital age, it’s hard to believe this portable media player was first launched in 2001. Six years later the 100 millionth iPod was sold. MUSICALS: They’ve been around forever, but this decade musicals came back to film, starting with “Moulin Rouge” and “Chicago.” But for kids, it was Disney’s extremely successful “High School Musical” franchise— three movies and counting—that brought back the musical magic. NETFLIX: The DVD by mail service, established in 1997, announced its twobillionth DVD delivery this year. For many, those discs on top of the TV are just one more thing to procrastinate over. ORGANIC: Americans rushed to fill their grocery carts with organic food, making it big business—now a $21 billion industry, up from $3.6 billion in 1997. At decade’s end, Michelle Obama planted the first White House organic vegetable garden. REALITY TV: As a nation, we became addicted to reality TV, from the feuding Gosselins of “Jon & Kate Plus 8” to “American Idol” to “Project Runway.” At decade’s end, the Heenes of Balloon Boy fame and the Salahis of gatecrashing fame give reality TV some unwanted attention.

[ 06 [


RECESSION CHIC: Fashion skewed to more severe styles—and much black—as socalled “recession chic” took hold in the latter part of the decade. RETRO CHIC: Once you forget the smoking, the racism, the sexism and the homophobia, the early ‘60s depicted by the AMC series “Mad Men” sure looked good. The swinging Madison Avenue ad men make neckties cool again. SEXTING: Combine texting with a cell phone’s camera function and you get this parental nightmare. A survey from Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that 15 percent of teens ages 12-17 with a cell phone had received sexually suggestive images or videos. STARBUCKS: It’s a cliche that there’s one on every block, but sometimes it seemed like it—and millions now consider it normal to spend $4 or so on a coffee drink in the morning, perhaps a venti half-caf halfdecaf vanilla latte with an extra shot. TATTOOS: It started innocently enough—maybe a butterfly on the shoulder or a tribal symbol on the bicep. A few characters from the Chinese alphabet later it seemed any hipster who really meant it had a full sleeve of tattoos. The trend extended to middle-aged moms and even tween idol Miley Cyrus. TV SCREENS: Television screens became bigger and flatter, making some ordinary living rooms and dens the equivalent of big-studio screening rooms. At the same time, though, people were watching movies and videos on the tiniest screens imaginable—on their iPods other mobile devices. TWEEN CULTURE: Tweens, especially girls, became an economic force to be reckoned with, buying everything from clothes to electronic devices to music to concert tickets. TWITTER: The new social network introduced tweets, retweets, follows and trending topics—as long as it fit in 140 characters.

[ 07 [


UGGS: Not since the Croc (see above) has functional footwear created such a frenzy. The fur-lined snow boots were everywhere, no matter the climate. Los Angelenos insisted on wearing them with shorts. WII: In a sea of ever-more-sophisticated video games, this simple console became the decade’s breakout hit by appealing to the nongaming masses. Wiis became a center of family gaming, home fitness and even senior socializing. WIKIPEDIA: A boon to lazy students everywhere, the open-source encyclopedia used the masses to police its entries and keep them (mostly) (sometimes) accurate. YOGA: Madonna, Gwyneth and other bendy celebrities brought the eastern practice mainstream. By the end of the decade, even Grandma could do downward-facing dogs on her Wii Fit. YOUTUBE: Let’s end this list and go kill some time by watching ... YouTube videos! The video-sharing site was born in 2005. Political candidates in 2008 even had their on YouTube channels. The most popular video yet: “Charlie Bit My Finger,” in which baby Charlie bites the finger of his brother Harry.

[ 08 [






BY RON ROSENBAUM Gather round, it’s time to catch up with some catchphrases we’re using at the end of the decade. And this time, it’s personal. The value of a close reading of contemporary rhetorical tics and tricks is that one often finds a kind of hidden agenda embedded in the euphemisms and evasions. It’s not a trivial subject. In domestic politics, for instance, we had the misbegotten political framing device public option, which, in masking a complex hidden agenda, baffled even potential supporters. We also saw how misbegotten “philosophical” clichés like the banality of evil continue to cheapen thought. So much can be compressed in an often ambiguous, deceptive way into so few words. And once these words calcify into catchphrases, their influence, left unexamined, can make us stop thinking about what we’re saying or say things we don’t think about until we catch ourselves and catch on that we’ve become prisoners of our catchphrases. Just how much political and social power can be packed into one- two- or three-word phrases? A recent 60 Minutes/ Vanity Fair poll reported that two-thirds of Americans still didn’t understand what the “public option” was. Who knows whether the whole history of the health care debate would be different if proponents had come up with a phrase that people could not only understand but rally around. Now it looks as if whatever health care bill passes won’t contain the “public option” (which I favored). The Senate version dropped it like it was hot, and I blame the catchphrase framers. But before proceeding with the newest of the new, there’s a painfully antiquated catchphrase that just won’t die, but needs to be death-paneled. Fifteen minutes of fame has had its 15 minutes of fame. Way more than 15 years of fame, actually. And its original meaning has been subtly but ineradicably distorted. When Andy Warhol uttered it in his faux-naive way, he meant it, at least in part, as a celebratory observation, not an anti-celebrity thing. When he said “in the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,” he was pointing out how much fun that would be. Fame, in other words, would be as widely accessible as Campbell’s soup. And, he implied, that’s a good thing.

[ 09 [


OK, maybe that didn’t turn out to be true in all respects. Still, the phrase is inevitably used now with a disdainful sneer. A self-satisfied tone of elitist condescension. I mean, didn’t you feel there was some of that in the sneering at the White House party crashers? How dare those little people, those nobodies, seeking their “15 minutes of fame,” aspire to be seated next to the truly important people in Washington who have done so much good for the nation? Who had to put in years of sucking up to get invited to a White House dinner, while these climbers waltzed right in? So dismiss them with the Warholian sneer. And for those whose sucking up failed, or who weren’t in the right place to suck up, there was even more unexamined anger. Cue the ritual outraged denunciation of “reality show culture”: Gee, those people seeking their 15 minutes are so superficial! Before unveiling this year’s list, let’s review some of the phrases I consigned to catchphrase hell last time I wrote a column on the subject—and some of the ones I thought worth preserving: Among those I wanted thrown off the island and under the bus: it is what it is (in the “tough-luck” sense), the optics, drill down, under the bus, and not so much. Oh, yes, and dude— at least when it’s a “Big Lebowski” reference. Ones I thought still worked: make it work, it’s all good, it is what it is (in the existential/Buddhist sense). And oh, yes, throw up a little in my mouth—I still like that. One thing I’ve noticed is that many new catchphrases these days first take root among blog commenters. But there’s a whole set of phrases from the blog-commenter community that have not aged well—just sayin’, well played, what he said—and are getting a little long in the tooth from overuse. Just sayin’. And what about stay classy, an ironic comment usually made about another commenter’s abusive comment? In my last examination of catchphrases, I was still unsure about stay classy, but I have to say that, despite its becoming an all-too-common staple of blog-comment culture, I like it, because it’s one of the few catchphrases through which members of the commentariat display an awareness of their own tendency for abusiveness—display any irony at all—and it actually makes me laugh out loud when I read it in conjunction with the comments of an abuser.

[ 10 [


One kind of blog-comment abuser I’m sick of is the infantile right-wing commenter types who think they’re being incredibly clever by making fun of Obama’s name. Yes, there were nitwits on the left who gave us the offensive “Bushitler,” etc. But enough with the Obama variations! The Nobama, the Obummer, the O-nada, the Ozero, the Obambi and the like. All indices of the commenter’s subprime playground-level intelligence. And then there’s Obongo, not uncommon among right-wing blog commenters, which is pure, inexcusable, low-IQ racism. Stay classy. Not brand-new but never fails to annoy: How’s that working out for you? What makes this phrase particularly annoying is its combination of smugness and self-congratulatory virtue. But is it a virtue to be smug in a hostile way? I mean, who asked you for an intervention? How’s that working out for you, dude? Making lots of new friends with your incisive interrogatory critique of other people’s life choices? Life choices that might involve a... Work-around: I see this all over now, I’d call it the most popular new all-purpose catchphrase. (Or maybe it’s tied with game-changer.) On the one hand, it can be an ethical-sounding way of doing something dodgy or sketchy. A trick! The Cayman Islands used to be a good work-around for your insider-trading profits, say. An ethical-sounding way of bending the rules. Work-around’s getting a good workout, but I feel workaround still has a half-life to it, especially when used in an ironic or self-deprecating air-quotes way. Tiger Woods thought he had a “work-around” in dealing with marital fidelity. How’s that working out for you? And work-around doesn’t have to be dodgy; it can be appealingly offbeat, with the unofficial, improvised, no-standard, sometimes Machiavellian/sometimes pragmatic ethos it implies. The way some jazz gives old standards a work-around that is more than a dodge; it’s an embellishment. But don’t call it outside the box anymore, please. By now, the injunction to “think outside the box” has become inside the box airline-magazine management-guru cliché. Please, some of you should get back into the box, please, and take your quirky Power Points with you. What about thinking outside outside the box? Not outside the box but not inside the box again, either. Transcend the box. By the way: 2.0 and 3.0? Really abused by now. Let’s put them back inside the box.

[ 11 [


Game-changer: I liked this when I first heard it. I’m an inveterate watcher of pro-football-highlights shows that air nothing but game-changers, so the gestalt of game-changer resonates for me. It’s not only the play that does something great; it’s the blow to the morale, to the momentum of the other side. It’s a rare catchphrase with a psychologically complex dynamic embedded in it. It’s dramatic! I think it’s going to be with us for a while. “Up in the Air” may have given it classic status. That’s how I roll. You’re using a word first mainstreamed in a certain particularly well-named 1995 film, “Clueless,” which satirized the phrase even then. I don’t use it, but some people can get away with it, sort of ironically. And your point is?: I almost always find this funny still. Oh, snap!: First used on me by a certain zeitgeisty MTV executive when I’d corrected a pop culture reference. It’s an unconvincing way to say “you haven’t gotten to me” when you maybe have. Another variation: the melodramatic ouch. I could go on, but after great deliberation, I have decided that the catchphrase of the decade is: THE TAKE-AWAY. Because, really, isn’t this decade about the things that have been taken away from us? All that frivolity taken away by 9/11. Physical security gone, economic security gone, all remaining security about the future of the planet — they’ve all been taken away. I know; it’s commonly used in a different sense: a takeaway is what you get out of something, a Power Point bullet-point representation of reality. The skeleton of the full-bodied reality. But all that’s left after the final take-away is … the ask.

[ 12 [


TRYING TO BE RESPONSIBLE AND CUTTING-EDGE, TOO BY ALICE RAWSTHORN Let’s look back at what design was like a decade ago. If I’d mentioned the “S-word” you’d have thought it meant “style,” not “sustainability.” An electric car would have been one of the EV1s that General Motors spent a fortune developing, only to end up sending to the crusher. And you wouldn’t have heard of an iPod or iPhone. Most designers spent most of their time developing things that were tangible. Almost all of their work was for the wealthiest 10 percent of the global population, the pampered minority who already owned more than they needed or wanted, although only a few of them felt guilty about it. All of that has changed in the last 10 years—or should have. Just think of what’s happened. Giant leaps in science and technology. Environmental crisis. Economic turbulence. Social and political meltdown. This tsunami of changes has created daunting challenges and thrilling opportunities for designers. How have they fared? First, the good news. Designers have succeeded in redefining their discipline as something that does more than just produce “things.” This is because the intellectual process of design thinking, whereby designers apply the instinctive skills they have developed to identify problems and invent solutions, has been proven to be useful too. The new wave of social designers is using that process to tackle critical issues such as aging, homelessness and unemployment. A great example is the Southwark Circle, devised by the British social design group Participle to improve the care of the elderly in the Southwark area of south London by combining the roles of a concierge service, self-help group and social club. Enterprising industrial design groups, like IDEO in the United States, have turned design thinking into a profitable business by deploying it to create new systems, services and product categories, as well as to develop new products. Pure product design has changed too, by adapting to a digital culture in which a cheap cellphone has more computing power than NASA when it launched the first U.S. satellite in 1958. As the size of a digital device bears no relation to what it does, the old design cliché of “form follows function” is now redundant.

[ 13 [


The quality of the operating system—the “user interface software,” or “U.I.” as geeks call it—has become just as important in determining whether a product is well-designed as what it does and how it looks. Some designers still struggle with this, which is why we waste so much time tussling with overly complicated cellphones. But many of the hit products of the last decade—such as the iPod, iPhone and Wii—are triumphs of U.I. design. Designers have also made progress in humanizing their work at a time when the Modernist dream of standardization has soured. The Dutch designer Hella Jongerius does so by adding “flaws” to her objects to trick us into thinking that they are as quirky and personal as handcrafted pieces. Her German counterpart, Konstantin Grcic, begins the design process by building handmade models, thereby ensuring that, however technologically sophisticated the end result may be, it was literally shaped by his hands. Graphic designers like M/M in Paris, Graphic Thought Facility in London, norm in Zurich and Stefan Sagmeister in New York have achieved a similar effect by introducing artisanal or visceral touches to an otherwise technological process. The same is true for digital designers such as Yugo Nakamura and John Maeda. Another success has been the development of new ways for designers to help us understand the torrent of data that bombards us each day and is too fast and too dense to be depicted on maps, charts and other conventional forms of communication design. Processing, the programming language developed by the U.S. software designers Ben Fry and Casey Reas, translates vast quantities of information into “data visualizations”: luscious, easily understandable digital images that can be constantly updated. Now for the bad news. One hitch was the “designart” phenomenon of selling limited editions of expensive, often hopelessly impractical furniture. “Design-art” was billed (by the people who were hawking it) as imbuing design with “artistic” qualities. Most of it did the opposite, because it was a marketing gambit with the unfortunate side effect of confirming the popular perception of design as fobbing us off with overpriced, uncomfortable chairs.

[ 14 [


“Design-art” wasn’t all bad. The buzz accelerated the careers of some talented young designers, including Julia Lohmann of Germany, Maarten Baas of the Netherlands and Tomas Gabzdil Libertiny of Slovakia. It also generated a debate on the changing role of design that fueled the development of “critical” or “conceptual” design, which produces intellectually provocative work critiquing design and consumer culture, and has proved to be more resilient than “design-art” since the art market crashed. There was more bad and not-quite-so-bad news on sustainability. This was the biggest single challenge for designers in the last decade as they tried to escape the 20th-century cycle, once elegantly described by the eco-pioneer Victor Papanek, of persuading people to buy things “they don’t need with money they don’t have to impress neighbors who don’t care.” Despite some successes, it is still too rare that we feel confident about the ethical and environmental consequences of how new products were designed, made, shipped, sold and will eventually be disposed of. The current state of sustainable design is dispiritingly similar to the most influential car of the decade, the hybrid Toyota Prius—a compromise. The same can be said for the other great failure of 20th century design—neglecting the “other 90 percent,” or the six billion people who are too poor to afford the basics. Some progress has been made by volunteer networks, like Architecture for Humanity and Project H Design, and ambitious projects like the fiercely controversial One Laptop Per Child initiative. Was it enough? Sadly not. Let’s hope design does better in the next decade.

[ 15 [





The last 10 years have certainly delivered their share of pain and bad news. But there were bright spots of hope, wonder and awe, and often they came to us thanks to advances in technology. Legitimate digital marvels became affordable and easy to use. Distances got shorter. People made contact. Information was made available. Why not celebrate? I’m not just talking about gadgets—it’s more than iPods, iTunes, iPhones, Blackberries, GPS units, Tivos, WiFi, Kindles, Wiis, Blu-rays and Googles. It’s more than ubiquitous, portable email. It’s more than avoiding the Christmas mall crowds thanks to online shopping and using webcams to make sure kids and houses are safe. It’s about what’s underneath all of those activities that we are taking for granted. It’s the encryption that makes online shopping possible. It’s the leaps in hardware, software, microprocessors and storage. It’s the brainpower at various tech companies big and small and the R&D that makes it all happen. If you don’t know how to write code, build a motherboard or set up a Web site from scratch, it really can seem like magic. I mean, come on — to listen to music on a device smaller than a cigarette lighter, take a picture or video and send it around the world, get real-time feedback of thoughts and ideas via social media? How cool. Hence, the Coolness Decade.

[ 16 [


The Magic of ‘Everywhere’ Media After three years of covering technology companies from the bottom-line quarterly earnings perspective at CNBC from 19972000, I decided that I was missing out on that magic by focusing on all that money. So I sought jobs that would let me write about what all that money was being used for: to impact work, play, business, education, leisure time. But I carried one lesson learned while at CNBC to those new jobs. I saw how technology, in the form of electronic trading, had flattened the playing field in the financial industry, and had lowered barriers of entry for the average person. I noticed the same thing happening with media and information as I covered technology for CNN and Headline News. The rise of blogs and photo- and video-sharing made everybody a broadcaster—mind you, not necessarily a “journalist” in the traditional sense, but as purveyors of information and opinion, the rising tide of electronic democracy lifted a lot of boats in the Coolness Decade. We’ve argued here before about the good and bad points of that particular development. For the purposes of this column, I’ll be focusing on the positives and asking you to remember images and sounds transmitted by citizens that helped add to the big news stories of the ‘00s: the London transit bombings, the Virginia Tech shootings, the Mumbai attacks, the “miracle on the Hudson,” the Iranian election protests. All of that, plus other Internet-based changes that affected revenues, certainly brought more than their share of challenges to traditional media. Newspapers and magazines folding and jobs lost won’t make those affected think “magic,” I’m sure. (Maybe black magic or witchcraft, whichever requires periodic human sacrifices). But the potential is there to use digital tools and citizen-based insight and forge new models of newsgathering and storytelling — ones that will eventually turn a profit.

[ 17 [


A Second Coolness Decade? The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas beckons every January, and with it all the potential coolness that’s coming down the pike. Apple has an event planned for later in January that could yield its next cool thing, an iTablet of some kind that may change the portable media and Web-surfing model the way iPods and iPhones changed their respective platforms. Hey, there’s a new Google phone coming, the Nexus One. What coolness awaits there? Whatever happens, the next generation will keep us heading down the path blazed by technology developments of the last 10 years: handheld gadgets that contain a lot of the computing firepower that used to be in my IBM PS2 in the early 1990s; wireless broadband networks that get faster and more robust; the move toward on-demand media when you want it, on whatever screen you want to view it. All of this Long Tail niche-ness will mean more content, and hopefully more jobs for those who want to provide that content. The citizen media aspects of the business will continue to drive us toward on-demand news; that is, “news” that conforms to your particular point of view. That’s OK too, as long as we all continue to head towards a more media-literate society that considers the source, vets the facts, curates the results. I know it’s been a hell of a decade. Lots of bad news. The techno-wonders in our homes and offices may not balance all the nastiness in the past decade, but I believe there’s enough there to give some hope—or at least help us take our minds off our troubles.

[ 18 [