The thorny issue of what to actually call the decade we’ve just departed remains. Obviously the Naughties has a certain element of fun to it but also an irreverence that really doesn’t suit it. The Zeroes perhaps is a more reasonable idea, between the dot-com boom and bust followed by the housing derivatives econocalypse, and taking inflation into account the actual percentage increase in wealth per capita increase since 1999 overall is nothing. Zero.
But wealth is not everything, we should look at the other achievements over the past ten years like how much we’ve moved towards world peace. Well, there were 13 wars happening on the planet in 1999 but it’s impossible to tell you the number going on now, the definitions have moved and shifted in the meantime. Near as I can tell there are fewer wars but more insurgencies, counter terrorism operations and conflicts. The new guy in the White House has accepted the Nobel Peace Prize but is escalator the conflict in Afghanistan – an irony that he at least has the courage to acknowledge. We’ll add all that up to an over all zero shall we?
How about human progress? Well there have been a great number of leaps forward and new and surprising technologies changing the way we live our lives but some of the scientific advances that have been made have been artificially held back, by a combination of unreasonable legislation (in the case of gene therapies), a patent system in the US which completely fails to deliver on its purpose (in the case of just about anything but particularly software) and a combination of lawsuits and FUD. In many ways it has been a decade of big governments and big companies blinking at the tail lights of the accelerating technological train and instead of catching up, trying to throw logs across the rails. So innovations high, deliveries of public benefit low.
What about human development? The 2009 UN report (PDF) on the progress of the Millennium Development Goals makes sobering reading as the conclusions are that donations are down (under pledges by billions) projects are behind or decelerating and the some of the situations they target are worse now than they’ve ever been. The odds of completing the goals by 2015 as planned? Zero.
As retrospectives go this is adding up to be a pretty negative one, and as we’ve just rattled through the season of top-ten lists of 2009/the decade/all time and op-ed naval gazing I noticed that I’m not the only one that’s adding up the previous decade to a big ‘ho-hum, lets try better next time’. But personally I’ve done alright, I’ve made steady progress on a career that I actually enjoy and topped the decade off by getting married and moving to Tokyo, it’s been an exciting and fun year and decade. The trouble is that it’s easy to get down about things when some of the world looks like its been standing still or moving backwards around you. So as we quietly shut the door on the Zeroes and tiptoe into the… what? The Tweens? I plan to keep pulling my own corner of the world forwards and hope that if everyone else does the same the retrospective ten years hence wont be all about the Copenhagen failure and the mess we’re in now because of it but rather how we stepped up to the plate and started fixing the worlds problems for the better.