Every Friday (or, in this special holiday case, every Thursday), I’m compiling a list of five things that meet one criterion. “What is that criterion”, you ask? Well, it’s going to change every week and you’re just going to have to try and keep up.
Five Incredible Things Accomplished in this Decade
I know. I’m tired of the end-of-the-decade lists, too. I just think there are several things that took place in this decade that, in between analyzing Britney Spears shaving her head and the acceptance of “Google” as a verb, are not being recognized nearly as much as they deserve.
First, though, (because I’m inherently pessimistic and would rather imagine more than remember) I have to throw out a quick list of the things we didn’t manage to pull off between the years 2000 and 2009:
- Resurrect dinosaurs with science
- Facilitate the creation of superheroes
- Clone a human being
- Travel through time
- Discover and/or make contact with aliens
- Put a man on Mars
Everyone summarily depressed, now? Good. Then you’re more than ready to start fondly recalling five of the most astounding things our species managed to accomplish in the last ten years.
5. We made television adapt to our schedule
Developed in this decade: Tivo/DVR, Hulu/online streaming, and TV-on-DVD. Be honest: you already take all three of those innovations for granted, don’t you?
First up, DVR. People have been able to record television shows in some fashion for quite a while but the advent of digital recording made the process much more specific, effective, and refined, mostly by removing any possibility for human error and increasing the power one has over all available programming. We’ve all pretty much forgotten what television watching was like, prior to DVR but… try to recall it, for a second. Yuck.
Next, we have Hulu. It seems extremely standard and common now but think back to 2006: we did not have Hulu or any other legal, online television and film streaming source. Read that again. This wasn’t the Dark Ages – it was 2006. 2006! We did not have the option of something like Hulu until we were well into the second half of this decade.
Do you recognize this on a daily basis? I don’t think any of us do nearly as much as we should. Not only that but we already take it for granted despite the fact that this would have blown our minds as recently as four years ago.
You can now catch up on most major television shows at your own pace, even if you didn’t know you were missing something. Example: your friend recommends you watch Castle because Nathan Fillion is awesome. No arguments there. However, you work Saturday nights and you don’t have any sort of DVR set-up so you’ve never been able to see an episode. Enter: Hulu. You can catch up on several episodes in one afternoon for free. Bang. Done.
Also relevant in this accomplishment is the explosive rise of TV on DVD. If you somehow miss an entire season of a show in this era, you can normally rest assured that the season will be on wax in a few weeks or months, ready to view. Excepting a few special situations, this option didn’t exist before this decade. The “Shaq” episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm aired in late 2001 and in it, Shaquille O’Neal (who was playing himself, the world-famous superstar Shaquille O’Neal) could not get his hands on any Seinfeld episodes on tape until he had a run-in with Larry David, the co-creator of the show (yes, it was fictional but it was absolutely wrought out of real life).
Think about that: a multi-millionaire celebrity could not acquire copies of the episodes of a modern, mega-popular television show in 2001 unless he had some sort of leverage over one of the creators of the show. Unbelievable. Join me in appreciating our shelves full of television shows. Do it. Right now.
4. We moved on from tangibly printed words
Whenever a science-fiction story (from any era) presented the future to us, one of the classic “this is the future!” wrinkles invariably was related to the fact that everything was written on/readable only on some sort of televisual monitor. Sure enough over time, this has slowly proven to be the case with many important spheres of reality (television news and stock tickers, for example).
However, it always seemed just a little too far-fetched that we would ever wholly move on from actual newspapers, books, and magazines… until this decade (people still have trouble believing it’s possible). Well guess what: for better or worse, this was the decade where paper finally gave us its two weeks notice.
Amazon sold more Kindles than actual books on Christmas Day. Many major newspaper companies are floundering. The magazine industry may have to officially incorporate the word “website” into its name in the next five years, if it hopes to survive.
Is language itself being irrevocably altered? Not really; it’s just the alteration of the medium by which that language is predominantly delivered to people around the world. Who would have ever guessed that the greatest transition in the 21st century was not “terrestrial cars to flying cars” but “printed words to digital words”? Online newspapers are not as flashy, I know, but both essentially represent the same thing, if you think about it – the purpose will not change, just the means by which it works. Embrace the day, people.
3. We routinely utilized robots in warzones
No, they’re not 8-foot chrome beasts stalking the wastelands with a giant automatic laser rifle in each hand (*sigh*) but they ARE extremely advanced, futuristic machines with cool names (“Predator,” “Reaper,” and “Warrior,” all sound just as good as “Terminator”) that deliver robot death from above.
While the realization of taking up arms alongside our computerized brethren is immediately noteworthy enough, just imagine how important this development will look in fifty years, when wars are being fought exclusively with unmanned vehicles and devices from thousands of miles away.
Will we even bother having wars when both sides are using robots to do their dirty work? Will robots defy all negative film portrayals of their kind and actually serve as beacons of peace? Will we finally be able to pay-per-view Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots? Whatever happens, this decade will be the one that gets the credit.
2. We found ice on Mars and on the Moon
While frozen liquid is nowhere near as clearly astounding as any sort of extraterrestrial life (complex or not), look at these discoveries without the standard issue 21st century cynical glasses: there is water on the moon and there is water on Mars. Think about that statement; these were some of the largest looming questions scientists had when the world’s space programs began, over 50 years ago (to be fair, it’s probably been on the minds of stargazers going back thousands of years) and now we have definitive answers for both.
Yes, we all wish it was more glamorous (massive oceans on the surface teeming with monstrous alien life, for example) but breakthroughs are rarely as exciting at the time they are made as they are when examined in retrospect, years later and these two aquatic discoveries are sure to be revered by NASA and civilians alike (probably some aliens, too) for a long, long time.
1. We mapped the entire human genome
Though there’s no tangible trophy on display in Washington or some superstar scientist who earned sole credit, it is quite difficult to ignore a breakthrough quite as significant as mapping the entire human genome (and yes, I know the Human Genome Project kicked off before this decade but a completed draft was not released until 2003 so… shut up).
Now unfortunately, mapping the genome was not the equivalent of finding a clearly marked treasure map to immortality where all of our “how” questions were instantly answered (though it would’ve been terrific if the project discovered that there was just some ‘Live Forever’ gene in humans that we could turn on with a simple pill). What the project did yield – and will absolutely continue to yield for the rest of human history – was the means to answer many “why” questions that could ultimately cure diseases, help at-risk people avoid certain genetic threats, and further unravel the history (and future) of human evolution.
To be quite honest, the possibilities that lie ahead because we were able to map the human genome probably seem far beyond our comprehension, at this point (conversely, when we someday concoct a super soldier serum, I doubt the newspapers or Captain American will pay proper respects to the Human Genome Project). Current predictions for what scientists could potentially do with the information unlocked via the initial completion of the Human Genome Project would be like Nikola Tesla, amidst his work with electricity in the late 19th century, somehow foreseeing its future use within something like the Internet.
Though the greatest discoveries about the human body may be very far down the road, we all should consistently recognize that we were alive when that first, massively important step was taken.