The first decade of the 21st century was marked by crises. Militant Islamists attacked New York, the financial system crashed, the climate is threatened by catastrophe and democracy lost some of its standing. All this put together has spelled a debacle for the West, although the Internet represents a ray of hope.
Philipp Blom is a man who knows something about the beginnings of centuries. He is sitting in Café Korb in Vienna, a place where time does not so much move as remain frozen in place. He is here to compare the beginning of the 21st century with the beginning of the 20th century.
Blom has written a wonderful book, "The Vertigo Years," about Europe in the years between 1900 and 1914, a period he describes as a nervous time. The pace had quickened, and new inventions, particularly the automobile and the telephone, condensed and accelerated life. It was overwhelming for many people, and "neurasthenia" or nervous exhaustion became the disorder of the age. Today we would talk about "burnout."
On the other hand, says Blom, it was a time of hope and utopian ideas. People looked forward to the future, and to a more affluent, equitable and pleasant world. Then the Great War began.
Blom sees both parallels and differences between that era and today. At the beginning of the 21st century, there has also been a surge of innovation that has condensed and accelerated life, he says, and this time new technology -- the Internet and, to an even greater degree, the combination of the Internet and the mobile phone -- is also the driving force behind change.
The difference, says Blom, is that the beginning of this century has not yielded any hope for the future. Blom utters a depressing sentence: "We don't want a future, we want a present that doesn't end." It isn't as if this present were so attractive, he says -- it's just that people are worried that things could get even worse.
In a few days, the first decade of the 21st century and of the third millennium will come to an end. It was a decade that began, not with a smooth transition into a new era but with a bang. It was a decade filled with crisis years: the 9/11 crisis, the climate crisis, the financial crisis and the crisis of democracy. Taken together, they represent a general crisis for the West. Things could hardly have gone any worse over the course of decade.
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