Andy Crouch has a fascinating list of ten cultural trends of the last decade, and I swipe only the first one here.
Indeed, when I reflect on the most significant developments of the never-adequately-named 2000s (the aughts? the aughties? the naughties?), it seems that almost all of them were well under way in 1999, or even 1989. At the same time, in the last ten years some long-wave trends accelerated in notable ways. Acceleration matters. In one sense, walking, riding a horse, driving a car, and traveling by plane are simply variations on the millennia-old human theme of mobility, tracing back literally to the earliest signs of our restless race. But the difference between five miles an hour and 500 miles an hour is not just a quantitative matter of speed, but a qualitative change in the horizons of possibility.
Here are ten significant trends in North American culture that accelerated dramatically in the 2000s—almost always for better and for worse at the same time.
One | Connection
By far the most significant acceleration was in our technologies of connection. In June 2000, 97 million mobile phone subscribers existed in the United States; in June 2010, the number rose to 293 million. Urban and suburban Americans swim in a sea of WiFi (sitting in my living room on a quiet side street I can see 8 wireless networks)—and in the middle of Nebraska, you can get online at McDonald’s.
What did not take off in the 2000s was “virtual reality”—a world constructed entirely of disembodied bits, populated by avatars and existing only in the realm of the ideal. As the 2000s ended, the virtual-reality world Second Life was on virtual life support.
Instead, we used technology to reinforce our embodied relationships. Facebook was the highest trafficked website in 2010 (US subscribers in 2000: zero; in 2010: 116 million). Look at your Facebook friends—unless you are a celebrity, the vast majority of them are people you have met in the flesh. Same with the recents on your cell phone. Rather than replacing embodied connection, our devices supplemented and extended it, an electromagnetic nervous system to match the physical infrastructure of transport built in the twentieth century.