This decade is almost over and people are still trying to find the name that best captures it. Various ones have been tried: the Primes, the Unies, the Pre-teens, the Millennials. The most often used has been the Aughts, though it’s neither particularly descriptive nor emotive. I prefer the Ohs or, given the recent economic crisis, the Oh-Ohs. However, none of the labels has stuck and discussion is continuing.
Journalist Tom Wolfe coined the term the Me Decade, referring to the 1970s, and that seemed to define the mood so well that it was expanded to cover the next 40 years. Sociology professor Imogen Tyler wonders if it will be a Me Millennium.
But change is in the air. Even though psychologist Jean Twenge titled her book Generation Me and describes those born in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s as confident, assertive and entitled, she also says they use these characteristics to give back to society and help others. Philosopher Dan Dennett feels that the Me Decade is now in the past: The dropping birth rate shows that we are motivated with something other than replicating ourselves.
Now this may either mean that we are so into ourselves that we no longer want to spend our time raising children, or that we are slowly becoming concerned about things beyond our individual selves. I’d like to think the latter.
We are progressing from the Me Generation to the We Generation. Not Us, as in Us vs Them, but rather We, to present and promote inclusivity. We—the generation of social networking and Wikipedia. We—the generation of the many, the wise, the connected. Time magazine’s 2005 Person of the Year was “The Good Samaritans”: three global philanthropists committed to helping others. Time’s 2006 Person of the Year was “You”, or as Lev Grossman explained the choice in his article: “It’s a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before.” Author Seth Godin and management professor David Logan discuss the importance of modern-day tribes and how to best use them as agents of change. And throughout this transition, I hope that James Surowiecki’s idea of “The Wisdom of Crowds” is indeed true.
So let’s stop looking in the rear-view mirror. Let’s get past the Aughts and the Naughts. Let’s not quibble over semantics. You say potayto, I say potaato, oh let’s just move forward. Instead of trying to find the catch phrase for the decade that has passed—which seems to be more navel-gazing and a throwback to the Me Generation—we need to shift our focus outward and to the future. Since we are the Net Generation and connected, we can use both these characteristics to jointly tackle global issues and determine beforehand what the next decade will be—or rather, what we want it to be. Surely, we no longer need to wait till the end of a period to define it post-facto: We can proactively shape the coming one.
Such prescient or hopeful behaviour has precedence—such as naming 1979 the International Year of the Child, marking 1976 to 1985 the UN Decade for Women, and awarding Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize. An obvious choice would be to name the next decade for sustainable development, to be ushered in at the coming conference on climate change in Copenhagen. Or the decade of effective food distribution, such that the extremes of obesity and hunger, often within the same country, are avoided. Or the decade of education for all women and children, such that they too have a full range of options and can contribute to making it a better world. There are many options for naming the next decade, all depending on what We, in our collective wisdom, want.
Ranjani Iyer Mohanty is a Delhi-based writer. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org