The Oh-Oh Zone

Our intrepid editor muses about political (r)evolutions, 21st century-style, and invites you to play, too.

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.

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 very 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 yesterday that the volume of 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.

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 noncommercial. The vast majority of communication is via noncommercial email.

This new form of "borderless" communication provides the possibility for great innovation and especially political change. I would say my fondest hope for the future is that more and more citizens will participate in civic organizations and politics. We need for more and 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, environmental protections, and equity.

A. Bartlett Gia-matti, President of Yale University, has 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 what political policies 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.

Whoever and whatever is able to tap into this new form of human energy will transform politics as we know it. I can hardly wait. 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 us by sending your email to , visiting our website or faxing us. Please feel free to write the old fashioned way too (using the blank side of one-side-used paper is recommended).

"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." -- James Grant, Executive Director, UNICEF.

Carolyn Chase is a founder of San Diego Earth Works, organizers of Earth Day in Balboa Park. She may be reached at