Saying goodbye to the long 20th century. - And a very belated hello to the 21st.

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Certain historians have talked of a "long 19th century," extending the period out between ten and twenty years in both directions to go from the French (or American, if in that part of the world) revolution to the end of World War II. The thought is that this longer period of time, between 130 and 140 years, better represents the bounds of human history than that represented by the random division of calendar history into periods of one hundred years, showing the final triumph of, in one way or another, representative rule of the people over that of kings and emperors. It also represented the apex of European power and control on the world stage, with independent states outside or their control a comparative rarity.

If that was the make up of a long nineteenth century, then what was the overwhelming result of a long twentieth? Let us, setting aside that it has one year left to impress us, take a look at some ideas. Well, theorists like Francis Fukuyama actually called the 20th century short, starting it with WWI and saying that it died with the Soviet Union. In this period it was the age of political extremism- Nazis and Communists. I am not sure I agree with this though. If political extremism was the order of the day, then it began in the Russia of 1918 and ended with Mao's death in 1976. 50 years does not a century make. Decolonization, likewise, was pervasive, but occurred in a similar time frame of 50 or so years- an somewhat equal amount of time could be said to have been home to increases in colonization. Germany's empire was entirely composed, for instance, after Germany came into being as a state entity in 1870.

Setting aside political trends, you could argue that on a social level, you could say that we have entered the age of easy travel. The 1880s, the twilight of the age of sail, still saw intercontinental travel as a harrowing, dangerous, multi-week affair. Even within a nation or continent, it was not within the norms of common man to travel far for pleasure, and even for the rich the goal of a trip would often be more for its health benefits. And yet we were only a decade or two away from the age of the great ocean liners, and a decade after that the short-lived zeppelins. On the ground the horse gave way to the automobile. By the time of the 40s, the multi-lane highway and passenger airliner were already a part of reality and the concept of long-distance, short-term tourism was a thing that even the middle-class could aspire to. Sadly, for those who wanted it, this trend started to wane in the second half of the long twentieth century. Air and road travel times leveled off with gains being in the form of high speed trains and reduced border regulations. I am not impressed.

I would say it is the practical use of electricity. Street lighting predates it, but just barely, coming into use among some of the richer cities in the 1870s, but by the 1880s it was becoming common place- making its way from major cities into small towns. By the 90s the light-bulb had decisively made its way into the home and would not be leaving. Electrical grids, being formed for lights, later expanded out to power phones, kitchen devices, the radio and many other such things. By the time of the 1950s television had become a phenomenon and the first computers were being used to run mathematical equations. Of course, after that came the microchip and modern home computing. Inventions have always occurred, even in the days of pre-history. But not since the age of steam has the harnessing of one particular technology dominated every advance, changed every aspect of every-day living in the way that electric power has.

So then, what of the future? We are nearly 40 years into a long 21st century, so what do I make of it so far? Well, first of all, lets not quite give it to the microchip just yet. At this point 100 years we were looking at a century of the British Empire, a century of communism, a century of hard won peace after the Great War. None of that came true. So yes, we've so far had 40 years of personal computing, going from the Atari to the iPhone. But lets instead lay out a few less envious alternatives. Most are of course based in some way on computer technology, but focused more on its effect on society than merely listing technological advances?

What if we are the first 40 years into the age of no privacy. This is a bit hard to categorize- the fall of the communist bloc in Europe, for instance, lead to great increases in privacy in those places. But what I mean is not privacy from the government, but privacy from your fellow citizens. We're already easy to look up in the electronic equivalent of phone books. Hyper-targetted ads attempt to put what we want directly in front of our eyes, etc. But it can easily get worse, its not hard to see a future where biometric information is maintained by the government in the same manner that a birth certificate is today. And from there of course its bound to be hacked and made publicly available in most western states. In other states, with less regard for civil liberties, equivalents to China's currently forming social credit system might become the norm. No privacy would certainly crack down on criminality, but I think most people in one way or another engage in unlawful actions. Will we like having to actually live up to our "social responsibility?" And will government (speaking more towards authoritarian ones here, the type that legitimately fear coups,) finally have the upper hand on dissent if its able to read everything its opponents say and, for instance, turn off their cars or turn off their guns if things look to be getting out of hand?

We could also be 40 years into the age of unemployment. A hundred forty years is an awful long time for robots to have to become more competent than humans. They've done, okay, so far. This is a story that picked up in the popular consciousness after 2016 when certain parts of society realized that the others were not just going to erase themselves from existence in favor of a dubious white-collar future. The truth of the matter is that we could easily see a "robot"- more truthfully a computer- do that work better than a human can in the same way that the robot can better shovel coal or sew shirts. And then what do you do with all of those idle hands?

Or perhaps we are 40 years into the age of mass person to person communication? We've gone from international calling becoming affordable, the world-wide exchange of info becoming free online. In the future, translation service might become good enough to facilitate real, meaningful communication between people typing in entirely different languages. On the other hand, we are most of the way there already, and increasingly it seems like the masses just don't care to partake. I talk, I believe, to foreigners far less often online now than I did in 2004, and isn't that a shame?

Other folks, you know the type, might declare this to be the century of global warming. Its been going on since man first started burning wood- and longer still in the biological sense, but this is definitely the first time its starting to affect government policy. Will it continue to do so, are any hard choices actually going to be made? Will the any of the various boogeymen come true? If so, what will the backlash be? There will be backlash, after all, if people are told to expect less because of a generic desire to save the world. Remember that think tanks are, apart from just pushing for electric vehicles, also pushing for less vehicles, less air travel, less eating of meat. Do you think people will follow that quietly?

There is a real fear that we are entering an age of Chinese dominance. Its certainly been a good 40 years for them, and a bad 40 years for the west. Though the west, specifically western Europe, has huge demographic/aging issues, that is nothing compared to the ones that China has made for itself. I think things will come to a head in that regard far sooner than the Chinese government is thinking. The only question is when does the demographic issue start cancelling out their rising purchasing power? In terms of geo-political power I think that that might be the key question of this current century. People said all of the same things about Japan 20 years ago and they were wrong. But they were wrong because Japan was a nation of 120 million and thats far too few to be the world's leading nation against nations three times that size. China, in this case, only has to have its citizens reach one fifth of the wealth of America's for the money to equal out. Its almost hard to see them not getting there.
 
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OB 946

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Why would you pick this forum to post this shit on? Go write an Op-Ed for a publication nobody gives a shit about, like everyone else.
 

JambledUpWords

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Your premise would fit better if you were talking about certain ages in history, for instance: the medieval period, rococo, enlightenment, renaissance, or industrial revolution. With these, it’s a bit more subjective as to when these periods start and end, within reason. When you talk about centuries, there is a definite start and end time. 1999 is not considered the twenty-first century, for example. I think this question should have been proposed more in the realm of an age, rather than a century. If you talked about the technological advances in the 80s to today in comparison to what was going on mid-century, it would be more coherent. The 80s were a definite turning point in computers and the hard drive became smaller compared to that of the 50s and people started buying home computers in the 80s. It was an interesting read, but your thesis made it hard to follow.
 

ConfederateIrishman

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All I feel certain of is that the internet and social media are causing the same sort of upheaval that the printing press caused when it was introduced.
Beyond that, who knows: it would be easy to make a prediction based on current trends that would quickly be derailed by an at first seemingly small factor that blows up unexpectedly.
 
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While wars may not matter in a big picture sense, I mostly think of time as being giant build ups to the next Great European War, a climax that brings together all the stories from before.

The Napoleonic Wars ended the long period of Enlightenment after the Thirty Years War. Then it was succeeded by a Long Victorian Era from the end of that to the end of WW1. Then the great ideological conflicts of WW2 and the Cold War, which kind of fails my idea since it didn’t end in a war, but I view the Cold War as being like a WW3 that was dispersed over time and place.

Now we’re in the age of hyperpower and liberal democracy and the war that ends it will probably be the one that proves one or both of those ideas dead. Probably CW2, European Civil War, or China against some other great power.