Scifi author and futurist David Brin has penned a fascinating piece for Bloomerg in which he argues that the previous two centuries didn't really get going until their 14th year — and that 2014 could follow a similar pattern.
Admittedly, Brin says this "what if" exercise isn't technological, social, or even science-fictional, but rather "a bit of wholly unscientific, superstitious pattern-recognition." He points to the horrific events of 1914 which "shattered any vision that a new and better age would arrive without pain," and the 1814 Congress of Vienna that made possible Europe's longest extended period of overall peace — a time when the great powers turned from fighting bloody wars to focusing on their colonial empires.
At the same time, he dismisses the notion that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were a turning point, saying that "The U.S. shrugged off more damage during any month of World War II" and that much of the world assigns virtually no significance to that date. He writes:
Oh, we are still in the 20th. Consider the pervading doom and gloom we see around us, right now. Post-apocalyptic tales and dystopias fill our fiction, films and politics, especially the Young Adult genre where today's teens seem terminally allergic to stories containing hope. How very '60s. And '70s. And so on.
The ultimate question that Brin seeks to answer is this: Is it possible that a new theme for the 21st century requires only that we snap out of our present funk?
We can still choose our own fate. Next year, we might decide to cheer up and rediscover the can-do optimism that was crushed by the czar and kaiser and a small group of insipid, inbred aristocrats, exactly 100 years ago. We could choose to become problem-solvers, in part, because (let's imagine) someone in 2014 discovers a simple, cheap and safe IQ-boosting pill. Or politicians decide to get over their self-serving snits and resume the adult craft of negotiation. Or some cable news owner decides to rediscover citizenship. Or some brave director releases an inspiring film that astounds people with an unexpected idea called hope.
Or else go ahead and wallow in the obvious notion that 2014 will see a violent ruction of its own. A phase transition into a century whose theme we'll all regret. Or we'll see a continuing retreat from confident civilization, a turning away from the Enlightenment Dream, relapsing into fearful obeisance to a leader, or New Lords, or some simplistic ideal.
Read the entire article at Blomberg.