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Matt Frei's diary: The Noughties


How would you describe the 'Noughties'?

By Matt Frei
BBC News, Washington

As the first decade of the 21st Century clatters to a close, some of us have been wondering how best to sum up the Noughties.

The name is unfortunate because naughty is probably one adjective that doesn't spring to mind unless you see everything through the prism of one particular golfer.

Time magazine has called the 00s The Decade from Hell. That seems a little unkind. After all, it hasn't been that bad for China, India or TV personality Simon Cowell. Perhaps we should just call the decade unnerving or unsettling or even unhinged.

9/11 was THE signature event that set the tone. But I don't buy the idea that the overarching phenomenon of this decade has been the conflict between Lady Liberty and the forces of extremism.

Matt Frei in the BBC World News America studio
First came the iPod. Then the iPhone. What's next? The iWife or iHusband?

I think the biggest impact of the decade, the one that has set the tone and defined the era, has come from YOU!

Time magazine nailed it in 2006 when it made YOU Person Of the Year by putting a mirror on its front cover.

Even Barack Obama kept saying it during an election campaign in which he used the web to recruit 13m foot-soldiers and fundraisers: "It's all about you!"

I still remember the first personal e-mail I got from him. "Dear Matt," it started. An e-mail just for me… and a few million others. At one stage of the campaign I was on first-name terms with virtually every candidate.

The internet has been largely responsible. From Googlemania to Wikipedia to MySpace, Facebook and YouTube, YOU have become the star. And when it wasn't about YOU, it was about ME.

First came the iPod. Then the iPhone. What's next? The iWife or iHusband? Whether it's in the Big Brother House, voting on American Idol or bargaining on eBay, you have grasped the power of the mouse and the text message. You have done so in the world of entertainment and politics.

People power

Earlier this year in Iran, you students and housewives used your mobile phones and computers to record and broadcast footage that almost toppled the government after disputed elections.

Internet users in China
People in China have embraced the internet

In China, you have overcome rural isolation and poverty thanks to the internet. You may have lost your job in the garment factory in Guangdong, but you returned to your village armed with a web address and expectations.

In Botswana, mobile phones are now doing what landlines could never do. And an undersea cable has just brought faster-than-fast broadband to Kenya.

But the power of you hasn't just been enhanced and underpinned by mobile phone technology or by the internet.

Greater connectivity has gone hand-in-hand with a greater sense of entitlement.

First there was entitlement to information.

Remember how the British MPs' expenses scandal was first uncovered by an American researcher who was incensed that the authorities were denying her access to public information about what MPs spent on their second homes?

The decade also spawned a sense of entitlement to prosperity, lubricated for much of the decade in much of the world by easy credit.

Even if we were paycheque paupers, so many of us could pretend to live like millionaires. We all know how that has ended.

Thwarted expectations

And this is where we get to the fundamental conflict of the unnerving Noughties.

Time magazine cover 9/11
9/11 was THE signature event that set the tone. But I don't buy the idea that the overarching phenomenon of this decade has been the conflict between Lady Liberty and the forces of extremism

You have increasingly locked horns with the institutions that are supposed to represent you or act in your interest. You have lost faith in the banks to which you have entrusted your money, in the politicians to whom you have pledged your votes and the companies that have put food on your table.

You have become inquisitive, suspicious and picky. And when you can do something about it on Twitter or your own blog, you have flourished.

But there are some things over which you have no control: like how your garbage is collected, how wars are fought on your behalf or how politicians govern in your name. And that has made you frustrated.

The biggest conflict then in the past decade has been between You and Your expectations. If the Noughties have been unnerving, what can we expect from the next decade? They will after all be called the Teens.

Matt Frei is the presenter of BBC World News America which airs every weekday on BBC News, BBC World News and BBC America (for viewers outside the UK only).

And you can hear Matt present Americana on BBC Radio 4 and the BBC World Service every week.

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