Just because something is a great song doesn’t make it automatically a great idea.
I remember New Year’s Eve, the last day of 1999, and of course we all had a party and played the song and danced around to it. We were all at least halfway convinced that the Y2K bug was going to cause mass havoc. People were going to get stuck in elevators all around the world, the power grid would shut down, and nobody would be able to pick up their prescriptions. Chaos and mayhem!
Many of us at that time were discussing what we would do when we received confirmation that It’s the End of the World As We Know It. (We played that song too, of course). Several of us had it in mind that we would drive up to the rural property of a certain prepper guy we all knew. We were young and it didn’t occur to us that he had already watched that movie all the way to the end and we hadn’t.
It’s strange to look back at those days, not least because I was still with my ex-husband. I hadn’t gone back to school yet, I still couldn’t drive, I was still living in Oregon, I hadn’t yet discovered my love of distance running or backpacking, I had only been outside the country once.
Twenty years ago, almost nothing that is important in my life today was anywhere on my mental radar.
If I could have seen what my life would be like twenty years later, would I have danced harder? Or not?
There are a lot of other differences between 1999 and now. It’s hard to even remember, but a lot of what we consider everyday things were entirely absent then. Not just smartphones and texting - my ex-husband actually had A PAGER when we met, and I would text him codes on it and he would call me back on a landline. In those days, most people didn’t even have email, not even at work. No Google, no Wikipedia, no YouTube, no memes, no “social media” other than BBSs. We still occasionally used floppy disks. I had a physical answering machine. Amazon had only recently branched out from books to things like shampoo, which I thought was dumb as heck.
In many ways, our world really was coming to an end in 1999. That was the world we knew, a 1980s-tinged world. Our fashions and music would carry on, along with, apparently, a bunch of our workout videos? But many of the social, cultural, and technological norms would completely change.
Do I miss those days? Having lived through them? Nah.
The truth is that I can easily download all the music I remember from that time. The rest of it, who cares?
Food is better now. Not just restaurant food, or the fact that we can get all sorts of things delivered, but grocery store selections as well. Keep in mind, in 1999 we did not have Hot Cheetos. (I’ve never had one but I hear they’re quite popular).
Consumer items are cheaper and more widely available, whatever that might mean.
We have streaming. Streaming what? Why, everything, of course.
There are a few things about our current moment - other than the pandemic, of course - that are really annoying. I don’t mean “microplastics in the ocean” annoying, I mean “constant text message spam” annoying. What is interesting, though, is to watch these sorts of things come and go as someone or other innovates around them.
In 1999, I was 24. One might think that I would look back with nostalgia and miss my youth, especially now that I’m still recovering from almost dying of COVID-19. As much as I enjoyed dystopian film and fiction back then, it never occurred to me that I personally would feel like a character in The Stand at some point in my adult life.
I wouldn’t go back and relive that time in my life for a million dollars.
I’m thrilled to be here in 2020, moments away from 2021. Might actually go out and try to set a fire in a dumpster just for the feels. (Actually no).
On New Year’s Eve in 1999, we were able to talk about the world coming to an end as something of a mood, an abstract concept. We did genuinely have plenty to worry about. We were still not just pre-COVID, but pre-9/11 as well. It didn’t occur to us how very innocent we were, how little we understood of paranoia or even irony, though we thought we did.
In so many ways, though, our daily lives are almost immeasurably better.
One very real improvement that we have now is that we can communicate with friends and family all over the world, as long as we want and as often as we want, basically for free. The standards in those days were pay-by-the-minute long distance, and photographs you had to pay to have developed and then put in the mail.
We didn’t have crowdfunding, either, an innovation that I think will probably always be a part of our culture, but not something we even thought to do twenty years ago.
When I think ahead to 2040, I hope I’ll still be here. I have reason to expect that I probably could. I do wonder what things will be like.
On the crest of major change, it always feels at least a bit scary. We don’t know what’s coming, and we hate and despise uncertainty, so we catastrophize. Even as terrible things often happen, and some situations persist for years or decades longer than they should, amazing and incredible things happen, too. It’s just that we don’t tend to notice those trends or patterns because we aren’t looking for them.
Times are hard right now. We’re still in the global pandemic that had already begun by this time last year, we just didn’t know it yet. We may still have another year to go. That doesn’t mean that better times are not coming.
As we all look forward to 2021 and years beyond, let’s remember that the future doesn’t exist yet. There are no predetermined outcomes. We’re still here, so let’s take the opportunity to look forward with some anticipation. What if we all party like it’s 2039?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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