The Sunday Magazine

Where we have been in the last decade, where we are going in the next — Michael's essay

It's hard to think of a more tumultuous or disorienting decade than the 2010s — the forces of climate change, migration, technology, social media, in addition to political turbulence made the world a very different place in 2019 than it was in 2010. On the final Sunday of the 2010s, in a special three-hour program, we will take the measure of the past ten years and how they have changed us and the world.
L to R: Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai and climate activist Greta Thunberg. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters | Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP Photo)

The American author Annie Dillard once wrote: "How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives."

We measure the time of our lives not in Eliot's coffee spoons, but in days and years and decades.

And being human, we like to think that the times in which we live are unique, unprecedented, particular and floating free of the encumbrances of history.

I guess we reason that if the times are special, then we are somehow special.

Leaving the markings of one 10-year span and embarking on a new one is a pivot time — a moment to revisit the old decade to see if it can teach us something about the coming one.

For the last Sunday of 2019 and the 2010s, a retrospective of those elements of the past 10 years which have brought us to where we are today.

We will follow the complicated meridians into the decade and try to measure the impact and legacy of those years.

For many of us, 2010 to 2019 have been a blur, or a series of blurs, where events and changes raced so quickly through our consciousness that we barely had time to absorb them, let alone process them.

The world of technology enhanced its grip on our attention for good and ill.

Social media reached their apogee in the decade. Have they been a boon for humanity or have they turned into a high tech Ebola virus, destroying people's lives and threatening the chassis of liberal democracy?

Does the eruption of protests by people around the world harken a cry for freedom or signal a disdain by citizens for all government?

Has the reality of global warming changed the way we think about the continued viability of life on the planet? Or has it merely overburdened us with more disaster fatigue and climate grief?

The decade saw the largest migration of people in human history, which in turn led to the rise, in some countries, of a newer, more nuanced bacterium of fascism.

Is democracy as we know it dying or evolving into something more inclusive?

The decade also triggered the greatest inequality of income in living memory.

It was a decade whose signature literature was about dystopia ... from The Hunger Games to Margaret Atwood's The Testaments. And whose signature movies were about superheroes … were these escapist fantasies answering our collective anxieties?

In large measure it was a decade when the young came into their own, showing their entrenched seniors new ways of doing things.

We might even bookend  the 10 years with the memory of two young girls who have become symbols of the times — Malala Yousafzai, shot in the head in 2012 for wanting to go to school in Pakistan. And in 2019, young Greta Thunberg  who gave her "How dare you?" speech to a United Nations conference on climate and graced the cover of TIME Magazine as "Person of the Year."

At first blush, it seems folly to try and boil down 10 years into three hours.

But we have engaged the talents and insights of some of the best observers to examine the dying decade and in a sense try to explain us to us.

Perhaps in examining where we have been for the last 10 years, we might fashion some understanding of where we are going in the next 10.

Click 'listen' above to hear the full essay.


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