Ringing in a new decade

The changing of the date is more than just switching calendars.

“Happy New Year!” is fun. “Happy New Decade!” carries a little more weight since we are talking about 10 “Happy New Years!” packed into one neat bundle.

The coolest had to be midnight on Jan. 1, 2000, when we said “Happy New Millennium!” Whoa, that’s a thousand “Happy New Years!”

Definitely a good time to pinch yourself to remember where you are and what you are doing when that happens because it won’t happen again in our lifetimes. There are grown men and women walking around right now who weren’t even born yet. I was a year and eight months away from fatherhood when that clock struck midnight. Where will you be a year, 5 years, a decade from now?

In the Dec. 25, 1999 edition of this newspaper, I made some predictions for the next 20 years, including: “People will have sharp ideological divisions... and [there will be] possibly a second Civil War,” and “computers will become smarter and... trusted to secure the home and control appliances.”

Scary accurate, right? Well, I also predicted we were on the verge of a “decade of decadence.” Instead, we got war, terrorism, and corrupt institutions falling like dominos.

I always thought it would be a cool book idea to get statements from ordinary people recounting history through their eyes. Not the boring, everyday stuff as much as the moments that will intrigue people long after all of us are buried and dead.

I quizzed my grandfather Leon about what it was like to live in DeKalb County during the Great Depression. His answer was that it wasn’t much different because most folks on Sand Mountain were poor farmers who already grew crops or slaughtered their dinner, plus it was hard to miss what you’re already too poor to own. Details like that really humanize my impression of that historical event and give context to the contemporary. Mainly, the realization that we’d be much worse off if it happened again now because how many of us rely on a trip to McDonalds or the grocery store to avoid starvation these days? It might be a good time to make sure someone in the family knows how to garden, right?

I am a big proponent to writing down your personal story. Not a memoir or anything so pretentious, unless you just want to. I’m talking about sitting down Granny or Pawpaw and having the video rolling as you ask them to tell you stories about the “olden” days. Kids today won’t be into it beyond helping you set up this digital record – they’re too distracted playing Minecraft or chasing after each other. But someday, when they get bogged down by heavier things, they may watch it with great interest in learning more about your family history and what it was like to work and live in a particular time.

I have lots of old home movies on 8 mm film and VHS that I need to get transferred to digital video.

I’ve experienced so much disruptive technological change in my own lifetime, which I am hopefully only halfway through. I’ve gone from listening to music on 12-inch vinyl to 8-track cartridges to cassette tapes, then compact disc and now streaming media. That’s a lot of buying the same music and movies over and over again.

Our local Landmarks organization is doing the very important work of preserving the history of DeKalb County. I imagine historians in the 22nd Century searching for and curating color commentaries regarding what it was like on the Trail of Tears, Pearl Harbor, serving in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even now, we look back in fascination of Nazi Germany, curious to know how a maniac managed to convince the population of a country to sell their souls and commit unspeakable atrocities. There are lessons to be learned as history can repeat itself.

Our hardest times define us. And understanding that we need to remember what it was like when we come out of the other side makes it easier, for me at least, to endure those tribulations and learn from mistakes made.

I encourage you to write down or otherwise capture your memories of things like 9/11 and the “war on terror,” the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, even local storms of note like the 2003 Alabama earthquake, the 2011 super tornado outbreak, the 1993 snowstorm that produced 3-feet of snow.

The other fun part of New Year’s is setting resolutions and predictions. Resolution-wise, getting healthier is on my list (as always), but I need to get serious since it’s a little unsettling to see former classmates in the obituaries.

Predictions for the next 20 years? I’m no Nostradamus, but I predict:

  • more people will become vegetarians,
  • hauntingly life-like robots will serve as therapists and companions/assistants,
  • we will be able to upload our brains into a computerized form where they will be able to outlive our bodies,
  • electric and autonomous vehicles that are shared like taxis rather than owned will reduce traffic accidents,
  • renewable energy sources will become cheaper and ubiquitous,
  • “smart cities” will adapt to data about the behavior of their citizens, and
  • we will be able to buy prosthetic add-ons to enhance our bodies.

Cool beans, right?

I don’t know which excites me more: our past or our future.

— Steven Stiefel is a staff writer at the Times-Journal. Email: steven.stiefel@times-journal.com.

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