Another decade is almost in the books. It’s natural for all of us to look back and share our insights. Here are ten things I learned this decade.
1. The War on Terror won’t end anytime soon.
The Fort Hood killings and the attempted attack on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 make clear what we should have known years ago. Islamic terrorism isn’t simply Osama bin Laden calling the shots from some cave in the Hindu Kush. Terrorist attacks can be initiated by anyone from anywhere at anytime with just a little bit of planning and support. Even if we take out all of al Qaeda and invade every extremist or unstable Muslim country, it won’t bring terrorism to an end. That’s because the War on Terror, like the Cold War, is a war of ideas. It’s a battle of tolerance and progress versus hatred and fear. Some of it may have to be played out on the battlefield, but the true battle will take place in people’s hearts and minds. Like the Cold War, this will be a decades-long struggle. I have no doubt though about which side will win.
2. But America’s biggest danger in the coming decade will be home brewed.
Even as someone who grew up with the Sixties and Watergate, I have never seen American politics as polarized as they have been in this decade, especially in the past year. When politicians, talk show hosts, and pundits start calling those they disagree with Nazis, murders, and terrorists, normal debate becomes impossible. Reasonable people become angry mobs, and the already unhinged become dangerous. I’m afraid that the Next Bad Thing that happens on American soil won’t come from a foreign foe. It will be one that is home brewed, fermented by increasingly hateful rhetoric. I hope those on both sides can start civilizing the debate before it’s too late.
3. Technology will save our economy…again.
In every decade since World War II, the economy has been boosted by whatever the big technology breakthrough comes along. So, don’t pooh-pooh the Green movement. There are plenty of good jobs from building wind turbines, solar panels, and hybrid cars. The next big economic boom can come courtesy of Al Gore and the polar bears.
4. Youth sports are in serious trouble.
I’ve seen membership in our Little League and other community sports programs decline drastically this decade. There are a number of reasons for this, especially the bad economy, but I also see something deeper and more destructive. Youth sports have become more professionalized. High schools have become feeders for the pros, and youth sports have become feeders for the high schools. This is why youth sports have become a big business — from equipment vendors, to year-round travel teams, to professional coaches and trainers. This is bad news for children of all skill levels. Kids who are on the athletic fast track are being pushed towards higher levels of performance than their developing bodies can handle. (Deaths in high school football were rare when I was that age. Now, one or two deaths are reported in our area every year.) Kids who aren’t on the fast track may wind up being shut out from sports, and left to their videogames and a sedentary and unhealthy lifestyle.
5. Anyone can become famous.
6. Privacy is dead, and nobody cares.
We Americans have been willing to give up our privacy in the name of convenience and security for the past decade. We can view highly detailed pictures of our homes on Google Maps, have stores keep detailed records of our purchases, and give out our e-mail address to every online vendor that offers a free coupon. George Orwell is right: We love Big Brother.
7. People will believe anything, regardless of the facts.
I’ve been warning people for a decade not to believe everything they read. Not only do people still fall for false stories on the Internet, they insist on believing them regardless of how many facts disproves them. Why are there still people who believe that President Obama wasn’t born in Hawai’i despite all the evidence that verifies his birth? And why do those people still believe in a birth certificate that shows he was born in Kenya despite all the evidence that says it is a forgery? Is something now true simply because we want it to be?
8. Nothing will replace books.
I’ve also been following ebooks for a decade. The new generation — including the Kindle and the Nook — show considerable technological progress. They still can’t replace the enjoyment of holding and reading a printed paper book. Books can be easily used, shared, and marked up. You don’t have to worry about recharging or having a vendor delete the license of a book you already purchased. Shelves full of books add prestige to a home. And printed books can last for centuries. I can see printed newspapers and magazines vanishing in favor of the Web in the near future, especially as stores accept more Web-based coupons. But I see books being with us for a very long time.
9. The more we learn about the universe, the less we know.
When I was growing up during the Apollo space program, we felt fairly confident that we knew how the universe worked. Pluto is a planet. The moon doesn’t have any water. There isn’t life anywhere else in our solar system except on earth. The scientific research and exploration we’ve done in the past decade has caused science textbooks to be rewritten several times. Who knows what theory-shattering discoveries we’ll make in the next decade? What will the Large Haldron Collider show us? How will humanity react when we finally discover another planet or moon that has life?
10. You can handle anything when you’re with people who love you.
We’ve been affected like everyone else by the highs and lows of an unstable economy. We watched in horror as the events of 9/11 unfolded. But through it all, we’ve had our family that has kept us whole. The many wonderful times we’ve had with our children more than offset the dark events of the world around us. This is why our family will remember fondly a decade that most write off as miserable.