As this decade comes to a close, it seems all the more tragic that we never built consensus over what to call this era (the "aughts," the "naughts," the "zeros"?).
Why? Because it's becoming increasingly clear that this is the most significant decade since the 1960s.
Do you doubt me? Consider all the geopolitical and macroeconomic events of the decade:
1. The dot-com bust
2. A disputed presidential election
3. Sept. 11
4. The anthrax attack
5. The Afghanistan War
6. The Iraq War
8. The housing boom and bust
9. The financial crisis
10. A black man becomes president
11. The worst recession since the 1930s
(Note: I don't buy into the pedantic argument that the decade actually continues through 2010 — despite two angry letters to the Chronicle this week. Yes, there was no Year 0, and so maybe the millennium didn't start until 2001. But that doesn't mean decades can't start and end whenever we want. We could celebrate the decade of 1993-2003 if it was expedient for society.)
Anyway, back to the colossal importance of the '00s. Can the 1970s, '80s or '90s possibly compete? I think not.
The one downside to the decade is a paucity of significant cultural movements, especially in the area of music. The '70s had punk and disco. The '80s had New Wave and hip-hop. The '90s had gangsta rap and grunge. What did the '00s bring? A lot of great music, no question — but groundbreaking new genres? Not so much.
But decades aren't remembered for individual events, they're remembered for capturing a mood. If you had to encapsulate the 1960s in a word, it would probably be: "protest." (That covers the counterculture movement, the music, the proliferation of drugs and the opposition to the Vietnam War.)
What encapsulates the '00s? It would probably be something like: "coping with fear." That sums up most — if not all — of the items described in my list above.
UPDATE: Guess I forgot to include Hurricane Katrina, the costliest natural disaster in history (though by no means the deadliest). My list now goes to 11!