Perhaps it's because 10 years ago, 2001 dawned with a dot-com bubble gone bust, that disputed election, and the unforeseen attack on East Coast soil. Or it could be that so much of our attention in the subsequent years was devoted to news too dire to digest (Iraq's consequences) or too fluffy to be relevant (Britney's crotch or hairless antics). Maybe all those extraordinary successes of the 1990s (which saw, as if by magic, a Cold War fizzle and wallets fatten) left us with a hangover.
Or it's because the 10 years since ’01 have been so damn tough to define. You see, before the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s—and even the inexplicable 1990s—ended, at least we knew what they meant in hindsight.
But whatever the reason, the unnamed, awkward decade that ended last week seems to have served mostly as a default hiatus from our real lives. That isn't to suggest that the landscape has been stagnant. After all, two wars are raging and the financial markets have jerked us up and sideways. There's renewed fervor attached to national politics, even if the tea is dark. Technological breakthroughs have ushered in new models for the creation and distribution of media that have changed our information society on a Gutenberg scale.
Very little seems to have happened to join us together. No bolts from blue that stopped us dead in our tracks. We did not join forces. If anything, we disconnected more and “talked” in one-way code.
Which brings me to now. There is, more than ever, anticipation of what's next, in a culture that's accelerating ever faster with each passing month. But anticipation means waiting. That is, until the calendar flips to this year: 2011. Just as health clubs swell and cigarette sales plummet each and every January, this sparkling decade begins with the promise of change. It’s about starting anew. Stubbornly, I want to think that way!
It wasn't supposed to be like this. Very rarely are grand plans announced and then achieved tidily and within the arbitrary bookends of a decade, like the space race of the 1960s. But it does seem as though, rather than answering the proverbial call, we've collectively hit the hold button. In a certain way, the unusual nature of the last two decades might help to explain why the momentous shift into the “twentyteens” is sneaking below the radar. The beginning of this decade, which didn't get revved up until 1991, was a watershed period, as Communism had its Garbo moment and speculation was rampant concerning the end of one century and what would bridge us to the next. Then Y2K hype dominated the turn of the next decade. But what sets apart this leap to 2011?
Perhaps we have created mass inhalation.
Distraction fuels procrastination, and every trend (and I’ve got a lot of them to share) suggests that the world is finding more and more ways to shorten its attention span and overload leftover senses. How easy it becomes, then, to look up every now and then from our smarty-pants-phones to say that we'll be sure to get to "it"—whether “it” means committing to alternative energy policies or learning the new language or doing that Living Will or rethinking how we save/donate our money, or hitting a treadmill, gee, how about once?
People have been waiting to start anew. I know because I hear it a lot. We wish to take up the challenges—tall, grande and venti—that we have put off since we started a decade that was, at best, less meaningful than the prior ones. It's as though we've wandered through a haze that is lifting. We won’t get on with progress until we have the excuse of a new decade. It’s here now.
For more trends, see the book 2011: Trendspotting for the Next Decade.
Richard Laermer is CEO of New York's RLM pr, representing, among others, e-Miles, Epic Advertising, Yodlee, Revolution Money, Group Commerce, Smith & Nephew, and HotChalk. He was host of TLC's cult program Taking Care of Business and speaks on trends and marketing for corporate groups. You can read Laermer on The Huffington Post and on the mischievous but all-too-necessary Bad Pitch Blog. For more like this, follow him on @laermer.