The decade in review: New York took a lickin' and kept on tickin'

The aughts. The 2000s. Maybe the best name for the decade we are just leaving is the Uh-Ohs.

At midnight, Jan. 1, 2000, some thought the Y2K bug would unleash the unthinkable — planes falling, telephone networks stalling, financial chaos.

That did come, almost two years later, on a beautiful September morning.

After the unimaginable event happened, and we mourned the nearly 3,000 who died, we steeled ourselves for more horror.

Would New York become the new Tel Aviv? It seemed for a while that it would get worse: There was the anthrax scare; the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, met with new taped messages from Osama; a recession; and Tom Ridge’s terror alerts.

Eventually, however, something quite remarkable happened in New York. Newcomers streamed in; neglected neighborhoods were revived; Brooklyn became the new Manhattan; music scenes were born; trucker hats and Pabst Blue Ribbon became hip accessories; and technology in a breathtaking fashion changed how we live.

We increasingly communicated in ways unimaginable in the dial-up-modem, cell-phone-as-a-novelty, newspaper-toting, landline-loving start of the decade.

“Tweet,” “blog,” “Wii” and “app” are words that would make no sense to the year 2000 version of you.

This underscores just how profound the changes have been, how whole industries have been wrecked or transformed by these changes.

Yet as technology changed our lives, old-fashioned culture flourished. Great architecture and museums bloomed (everywhere but Ground Zero). Some would argue that development went too far, pushing out mom-and-pops and making Manhattan uninhabitable for many — not as we feared, because of terrorism, but because it was simply so pricey and in demand.

After 9/11, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter famously declared irony dead. That didn’t quite happen ... just ask Jon Stewart, Paris Hilton and the gallery of real and faux celebs who have thrived since.

Yet always, the specter of the unthinkable hung over the city, not as palpably as in 2002 and 2003, but just enough to realize that luxuriating in our culturally saturated, comfortable lives was hardly a birthright.

We understood that our diversions — our iPods, Wiis, BlackBerrys and endless reality TV shows — were just that, and we could forget them just as quickly as we forgot the summer of shark attacks on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Great Recession, the surge in Afghanistan, a terror scare over Detroit and new threats from Iran, North Korea and now al-Qaida in Yemen are vivid reminders that despite all the progress and the fun of the aughts, this decade really was, in the end, the Uh-Ohs.

More: See the print version of this article, a special cover, and two timelines on the decade in news and culture by clicking HERE.

Tags: decade , 2000s , history , new york city

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