It’s that time of year when everyone creates a Top Ten list. Like every other year in recorded history, I’m sure there were many startling, important, or innovative “things” that happened. But, 2010 also happens to be the end of the first decade of the 21st Century. So, I’d like to offer a longer term perspective and identify what I think have been the top ten “game changers” of the century so far.
In no particular order:
1. The Attacks of 9/11 – The September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon fundamentally changed how the United States viewed the world – and how the world viewed the U.S. Almost 10 years later, the impact of those attacks on U.S. domestic politics, foreign policy, military spending, civil liberties, and the American judicial system continues to be felt throughout the world.
2. Mainstream Shopping and Surfing – Amazon, Google. They weren’t the first e-commerce directories or sites, but they grew to be the 5 billion pound gorillas of the internet during this decade. They set the bar for user safety, reliability, and convenience; proved that internet “eyeballs” could be monetized and made profitable; and redefined the shopping experience for hundreds of millions of people world-wide.
3. Social Networking – Linked-In, MySpace, YouTube, E-Harmony, Twitter, Facebook. These websites have redefined what it means to be socially connected. They are rapidly displacing older forms of social conversation, entertainment, and marketing. Facebook has almost 500 million active users, of which 50% logon at least once a day; 65 million Tweets are sent every day. Congregō, ergo sum
4. Smart Phones – Once we dreamed of having a universal communicator, world-wide information link, and advanced computer we could hold in our hand. Smart phones are those science fiction fantasies made fact. They are ubiquitous: linking us and connecting us; informing us and entertaining us; finding us and directing us. Smart phones have become the indispensable centers of our personal communication, entertainment, and information universe.
5. Financial Deregulation – A decade of deregulation of the banking and securities industries has produced an unregulated and complexly intertwined world economy. Tied to each other through anonymous transactions and exotic financial instruments, nations now find their own economies to be at the mercy of unfettered foreign market forces. There is no “local”; an economic shock in any country can cascade out of control, crossing national boundaries at the speed of light, and affect the financial stability of the entire world.
6. Swine Flu – This was the pandemic that didn’t happen, but could have – and might still. The ease and speed at which variants of this flu spread shattered the illusion that diseases “over there” couldn’t reach the medically advanced, developed world over here.
7. Global Warming – Forget about whether you believe in the science or not – the idea of global warming dramatically changed the world’s view of sustainable energy, climate control, and economic development. The failure to do anything about these issues has also exposed a growing rift between the world’s developed, developing, and underdeveloped economies.
8. Truthiness – “Truthiness”, defined as the belief in ones “gut” rather than in facts and provable theories, has become the new standard of discourse. Facts can no longer bet trusted to speak for themselves. An avalanche of unsubstantiated “facts”, bias-confirming communications among self-selecting groups, and deliberately polarizing opinion makers and “news” channels, have combined to make truth subjective.
9. Militant Islam – Islam is the second largest religion in the world (after all forms of Christianity combined). It is also the fastest growing. Many Muslims favor political rule based on Islamic Sharia law; a vocal minority of Muslims are militant fundamentalists. A growing backlash in “Christian” countries against these views will have long-term international political implications.
10. China, the Awakening Giant – This was the decade when the sleeping giant woke up. China is now the third largest economy in the world (after the U.S. and Japan) and is by far the fastest growing. It is also the world’s largest creditor nation, potentially giving it significant leverage over debtor nations (including the U.S. and other western democracies).
That’s my top ten list. Feel free to challenge, criticize, condemn, cavil, or congratulate.
— David Grant