by Carolyn Chase
keep asking people, what does the beginning of a new century and millennium mean to you? The dominant answer seems to be, not much. Y2K is turning into Yawn2K. Of course, everyone is curious to see what technology hath wrought and if any serious accidents will be triggered by clicking over into the double-zero or "oh-oh" zone from 1999 to 2000.
But overall, most people understand that the "oh-oh" effect is our creation - as much as any and all Y2K computer "bugs." As one friend put it, "the majority of people around the world don't even use our calendar," so it's really just another exercise in self-adulation, a self-imposed excuse to well, party like it's 1999.
Will our new year's resolutions mean any more because we happen to be here at this moment of calendar coincidence? And just exactly how are we supposed to pronounce "00"? It's the end of the nineties but the beginning of what?
Maybe it can matter more than just another new year. It can become a demarcation point other than just the clicking over of a decimal system. The next most popular answer in my survey has been from people who look forward to an opportunity to start something new.
When I was a little girl, I remember hearing that the 21st century would be the time when amazing technologies would enlighten our world and that it would be a bright and beautiful time: truly something to look forward to.
I am still positive about our prospects. The internet is an amazing development and will continue to transform human communication in ways we cannot today predict. It is this "unpredictable future" that I have the highest hopes for.
I heard recently that the volume of computer email has already surpassed the volume of regular "dead tree" mail. This is a totally new form of communication and is bringing millions of people together to discuss issues of the day who would never have had the chance to exchange ideas with one another before in the history of mankind.
The fact that is has taken so long for the web to commercialize is another hopeful fact. While some form of commercialization was inevitable, the fundamental values of the web have not been about commercials and selling stuff - but about sharing and building relationships. The values of web have been solidly about communicating "people to people" about things they value independent of commercial gain. The vast majority of websites are still non-commercial. The vast majority of communication is via non-commercial email.
This new form of "borderless" communication provides possibilities for great innovation and especially political change. I would say my fondest hope for the future is that more and more informed citizens will participate in civic organizations and politics. We need for more civic-minded people to become willing to enter the public arena as both volunteers and to become politicians. We need politicians who understand the need to deal fairly with the major "bombshell" issues of day for the local political arena: mobility, growth, environmental protections, and equity.
A. Bartlett Giamatti, President Yale University observed, "What concerns me most today is the way we have disconnected ideas from power in America, and created for ourselves thoughtful citizens who disdain politics and politicians, when more than ever we need to value politics and what politicians do..."
It is still an open question to what degree and what political form the internet will spawn. All the regular political gadfly problems will be there. But what is also there is the ability to communicate rapidly and inexpensively with millions of registered voters and volunteers via networks of thousands of personal email lists and websites. It has never been easier to form and build coalitions. Technology isn't enough to sustain coalitions, but it is increasingly easier to get them started and keep them going over substantive issues.
It's popular in San Diego for the powerful to rail against citizens exercising their rights to challenge the processes that expend public funds. This is not a new phenomenon. That's what democracy is all about. You might even observe that this is why we have democracy instead of dictatorships or other systems where people in power are more simply able to redistribute resources to their cronies without critical public review. Maybe it's easier to get "big things" done in those systems, but we should never bow to this kind of ends-justifies-the-means kind of politics. Democracy exists to compel power-brokers to be more honest and inclusive about their dealings. For every project that faces citizen-based challenges, we can all name others that have moved along by dealing directly and fairly with the challenges. But when people are left out of the process, or their issues are unaddressed, you can be sure that a group can be formed to force the issues. This will be more true than ever in the 21st century.
James Grant, Executive Director for UNICEF has noted, "Each of the great social achievements of recent decades has come about not because of government proclamations, but because people organized, made demands and made it good politics for governments to respond. It is the political will of the people that makes and sustains the political will of governments."
Whoever and whatever is able to tap into this new form of human energy will transform politics as we know it. We live in interesting times when individuals have unprecedented abilities to create and communicate. Now let's get to work. What are you starting new or reinvigorating for your new century? Please share them with me by emailing to . Please feel free to write the old fashioned way too.