The hardest thing about living through a turn of a century, let alone a turn of a Millennium, is that it is serious business. It isn't just a throwaway fact. 9/11 and the recession should have been a warning, a demand for some soul-searching. But even through the economic downturn, I know loads of people who have superficially surfed the wave of change with enthusiasm, and with scant consideration for what is going on around them. And, on the basis of their ability to go unfazed, they have really profited! But if one is sensitive at all to the deeper meanings in things, then it becomes difficult to absorb all that is happening. It is like having the volume turned up to maximum on everything, and the noise becomes debilitating.
In addition, many things are lost forever, and quickly. Anything suddenly and arbitrarily consigned to the dustbin of history becomes impossible to hold on to: there is no going back. Commonplaces of 15 years ago are unheard of today. The same goes with people and history.
You might see a Gen Y diatribe against the late Marxist historian, Eric Hobsbawm, totally dismissing him as a product of the evils of the 20th century, in a way that would have been unheard of a few years ago, even from his critics. A friend of mine was recently talking to a guy in his early 20s. The latter had never heard of Alfred Hitchcock or Joan Rivers. I hyperlinked them, because I figure there are other people out there who have never heard of them, either.
If you grew up in 20th century North America, as I did, ignorance about those individuals is arresting. It shows how 20th century figures - everyone from Joseph Stalin to Julia Child - who were once at the front of everyone's minds, have faded from the view of the Millennial generation. Even the reality that was established by the two World Wars and the Cold War is dissolving.
Time is now plastic. That Stalinist turn, that willingness to eradicate history and bend it to the purpose of politics and murder has become mundane. Signs of lost reverence for the procession of time are everywhere: this blog has looked at comic book retcons and stripped war memorials, to name two recent examples. Erasure and retooling of history is no longer considered to be a moral calamity, as it once was.
Globalization and the Tech Revolution have combined to see this trend unfold all over the world: memories and history are being mashed together, jumbled, tossed out, 'reduxed,' with little regard for context or the value of time once attached to specific places, cultures and traditions. This is one reason why political movements are appearing which are a violent blend of atavistic or regressive cultural reaction and high tech communication. Only beasts and gods live outside the walls, and we are becoming both.
Perhaps some forms of nostalgia do provide a saving grace. Trends like Steampunk are historically inaccurate, but at least they demonstrate an abiding interest in the past. One reason I revisit the 20th century on this blog is to retain bits and pieces of wreckage from my personal corner of memory. On any given day, the turbulent data stream brings another cork to the surface: Jack Horkheimer; the space shuttles; the house of your friend down the street; a movie; a radio program; or a royal wedding. Perhaps blogging about these things and people brings them into an ever-receding relevant moment in the 21st century.