The Decade’s Most Significant Cultural Trends

An insightful piece at Q Blog proposes what key trends & shifts defined North American culture during the first decade of the 21st century.

Five days into 2011, and it’s still a relevant time & interesting exercise to consider what we saw, learned and experienced during the first ten years of this century (particularly when you consider what science fiction thought we’d see ‘in the year 2000…’). A piece by Andy Crouch at Q Blog offers an insightful recap of the ten most significant cultural trends and shifts impacting North America during the past 10 years. The post is definitely worth a complete read; as a more brief conversation-starter, we’ve summarized the key trends highlighted.

Admittedly, some of these were not exclusive to 2000 – 2010. Cycles exist – economies (and hemlines) rise and fall, along with the the attitudes, behaviors and distractions associated with those. But the technological advances of the past decade (amplified by the Internet and digital media) – and their impact on how we behave & communicate – are quite unique. We’re curious to see how these cultural shifts evolve in 2011 and subsequent years, how we as human beings step-up, respond & grow.

1. Connection: Needs little explanation. E-mail, WiFi, Facebook, mobile phones, Twitter, etc.

2. Place: US mobility declined throughout the decade, reaching a post-war low in 2010. Is the ease of reach, access and communication afforded by the internet giving us fewer reasons to move around? the According to Andy Crouch, author of the piece;

More and more people will change careers in order to stay in a place—connected to family, friends, and local culture—than will change place to stay in a career. The 20th-century American dream was to move out and move up; the 21st-century dream seems to be to put down deeper roots. This quest for local, embodied, physical presence may well be driven by the omnipresence of the virtual and a dawning awareness of the thinness of disembodied life.

3. Cities: Cities experienced a renaissance in the 2000s, with previously dangerous or economically-challenged cities like New York, Atlanta, Portland, and Chicago seeing a redefinition as some of the more desired residential locations. The suburbs, on the other hand, experienced quite the opposite – seeing some of the challenges previously limited to cities now migrate to their less culturally rich territory.

4. The End of the Majority: In the US, we’re all now part of a minority. Our collection of racial, religious and political identities have made us our most culturally diverse – ever.

5. Polarity: Technology and its enhanced sense of connectivity – coupled with our commitment to our ‘place’ in the world – seem to have facilitated our becoming more ingrained in our opinions and ideologies. An abundance of information and open platforms on which to express our opinions has made liberals even more so, staunch Republicans staunch-er, and devout Christians more devout. Why? Digital access to communities of others with similar opinions. Human nature is still in play in the digital, connected realm – open access to information and connectivity to others with shared opinions further validates each of our opinions – and homogenous online communities (i.e., hello, echo-chamber) support us  in clinging tighter to said beliefs.

6. The Self-Shot: MySpace, Facebook, cameras built-into PCs, and digital cameras can be thanked for this. Along with them was born the photograph taken of self, with arm extended. Vanity, thy name is MySpace (and after, Facebook).

7. Pornography: Crouch states it best:

Pornography is as old as visual art, but in the 2000s it was more ubiquitous than it had been since the ancient Greeks…Superimposed on every image of our own bodies…were the idealized bodies of pornography and its close cousin, advertising and popular culture, which differ from porn only in not consummating the voyeuristic impulses they arouse…Our culture seemed to draw back from the brink at the same time as it plunged into the abyss. The bestselling memoir was titled Eat, Pray, Love, not, Eat, Pray, F@#k. No one really wanted the culture of porn to become a runaway train. But neither was anyone sure how to stop it.

8. Informality: From Casual Fridays to the t-shirts, flip-flops, open collars and tattoos of even the most highly-paid within the creative business class, informality became a status symbol – if you could afford to command a high salary and still wear your ripped t-shirts and jeans, you really must have made it. Informality also extended to institutions – marriage has often been preceded, if not replaced, by living together. Been ‘spiritual, but not religious’ is oftentimes more socially acceptable than the identification with a particular faith. Nebulousness, uncertainty and non-commitment has become for many a comfortable, permanent place – rather than a transient one.

9. Liquidity: Look to the financial collapse of very recent past for proof of this one. Trading on volatility – and shares of bets of future derivatives – earned many a fortune, and others destitution. Relying only on the exchange of solid, real goods became a less viable proposition.

10. Complexity: A very short leap leads to the observation that – along with increased information, access, diversity of opinions, backgrounds and priorities, personal agendas and the transparency permitted (and, as demonstrated by Wikileaks, enforced) by today’s technology and cultural, business and political landscapes – comes an increasingly complex world of considerations to truly impact change. The good news? The human brain, intelligence and will are also complex. Crouch optimistically believes that we’re no better nor worse that previous decades.

Here’s hoping and believing that – in 2011 and beyond – human beings will respond to this complexity with increased intelligence, kindness, consideration, resourcefulness and innovation – and evolve towards this side of being ‘better for wear’.

Q Blog: “The Ten Most Significant Cultural Trends of the Last Decade”

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