Friday, November 20, 2009

Not the Naughties

It’s been brilliant, it’s nearly over and we still haven’t named it. We’re going to have to refer back to this small era very soon. What can we call it? The name should be fitting – a word that acknowledges the great strides of progress we’ve made in this first decade of the new millennium.

Numerical names like the sixties and the nineties have been customary, but for this decade they won’t work. They don’t roll trippingly off the tongue, and they have bad connotations to boot. The oughties, for instance, sounds way too bossy.

The naughties? Too old-fashioned, and too close to the adjective naughty. It’s true that in the last century the twenties roared, and the thirties were dirty. But do we really want future generations to think the whole first decade of the new millennium was naughty?

Besides, there are still an aging few who recall that ought and naught used to be synonyms for nothing. But it’s doubtful whether anyone under seventy remembers that the game of xes and ohs was once called naughts and crosses. Clearly, if we use ought or naught, the original meaning will quickly become obscure, leaving posterity scratching its collective head. Who even plays xes and ohs anymore anyway? It requires those primitive implements, pencil and paper. We’ve gone way beyond those simple tools. Even the smallest child communicates strictly by computer and iphone.

Certainly we cannot dub the decade the zeroes or the zips. Using either of these names would be both misleading and unfair. And without doubt, young people growing up during these years would resent the decade of their coming of age being labeled as a nothing time.

Au contraire.
They will naturally want their coming of age decade to be remembered as the time of great technical and social achievement that it was. And there is much to be proud of. This has been the era when the home telephone, demoted to its reduced title and status as a landline, became so nearly obsolete. The time when it became impossible to talk to a human voice by calling a business number, due to the progressive move to the infinitely superior answering messages, each with its own dizzying range of options. The time when people began to ignore the ringing phone, in a vain attempt to screen out the computer voices that called them at dinner time and tried to sell them everything from carpet cleaning to firemen’s pinup calendars. Wait! Firemen’s pinup calendars? Count me in!

This has been the age, too, of the widespread adoption of the cell phone, a wonderful innovation that made it possible to speak to a live person again, always providing you had the cell number.

Even when cell phones were still so primitive they could not offer text messaging or video games, these new devices made their mark. First they instantly doubled everyone’s phone bill and made it impossible to screen out calls. And they certainly made commuting more exciting. On the train, people no longer suffered the boredom of poring silently over their own books or their own thoughts. The air around them was soon rife with one-sided private conversations to listen in on.

This decade of progress will also be remembered as the time when cell phones morphed into cameras. This was very significant: it meant that we could now take photos so miniscule that nobody could see our wrinkles or gray hairs, if indeed they could see our faces at all.

Of course, it was a revolutionary time for students too. Habituated to the vastly superior computer screen, they soon began to forget the printed page. Indeed, there was now hardly any demand for something so out of date as a printed book. At home, there was the 19” LCD monitor, and nobody went out without a blackberry. (I confess that I used to think blackberries were the wild fruit growing along the edges of the Serpentine Dike. Now I know better.)

Going to class became so much more exciting when students brought their cell phones, loaded with amusing ring tones. Now they could play computer games or send text messages to keep themselves amused while the boring teacher droned on and on.

It’s true there were a few minor inconveniences. For instance, old fashioned people with paper address books had to make room for email addresses. And luddites with no computers, slow computers or no RealPlayer Plus could no longer open their Christmas cards when the primitive paper Christmas cards that used to go through the renamed “snail mail” were practically forgotten.

When a personal computer became indispensable, parental rules were vanquished, once and for all. The same intrepid moms and dads who had had dared to put bedtime above the early years of CSI , Frasier, and even Survivor could no longer keep the TV out of the bedroom. To deny children access to their own computers would mean compromising their education and their future. As the downloading began, older kids rationalized, “But Mom, Dad, by downloading I can watch the whole season of The Office without commercials!”

It was around this time that live conversations became obsolete. In the bank, customers began to answer their cellphones right under the teller’s nose. Shoppers started using their cell phones instead of shopping lists.

“I’m at IGA. Do we need anything?”

“What? Sorry, Gotta go. Canadian Idol is coming on. Call you back.”

The old-fashioned tradition of eating family eating meals together passed into history, as individuals were now free to eat in front of user-friendly machines which never told them to chew their food or eat their vegetables.

Anyway, in just over a month, this brilliant decade will be over. When our new millennium enters its teens, we’ll have to refer back to this decade as something. The Sell Phones decade maybe?

1 comment:

  1. What did they call the 1900s? Surely they didn't say, "Oh, back in the 1900s..." That is just too cumbersome for words. I think this is a centuries-old problem. Very cleverly written piece.