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The “First” Decade

I thought I’d try a little experiment as I start the New Year. I wanted to look back at the past decade and see what really stood out—to better understand how the first decade of the 21st century would be remembered. So, here’s what I did. I copied text from Wikipedia entries for “events” during each year of the past decade and created a “word cloud.” The simple visualization tool gives greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in a body of text. So in this case, the bigger the word, the more often it appeared in descriptions of the important events of the last decade. Have a look:


I don’t know what to make of this. It looks depressing. There is a lot of “killing,” “kills,” “killed,” and “crashes.” Also, “US/United States,” “Iraq,” and “President” are prominently featured as one might guess. As are “government,” “Minister,” and “International.” “People” is a frequently mentioned word too, but probably associated more with all of the afore mentioned “killing.”

Unfortunately, this is how a lot of the past decade will be remembered—for the politics and the tragedies that dominated the headlines. The other day I heard the past decade called “the nothing decade,” suggesting nothing good came out of it. Sad.

Against the backdrop of so much negativity and nothingness, it’s hard to think of any progress made in the past ten years. However, as equally prominent as any of the other words in the “word cloud” is the word “first.”

  • Firsts in science (e.g., first privately funded spaceplane to achieve spaceflight; first face transplant; first draft of the human genome).
  • Firsts in statecraft (e.g., first female president of Finland; first directly elected president in Afghanistan; first African-American president in the US).
  • Firsts in human rights (e.g., first gay marriages).
  • Firsts in pop-culture (e.g., first episodes of Survivor, American Idol, and Dancing with the Stars).
  • Firsts in technology (e.g., first iPod, iTunes and iPhone).
  • Firsts in sports (e.g., first [and second] World Series wins for the Red Sox since 1918; first, second, and third Super Bowl wins for the Patriots; first National Championship win for Syracuse basketball; and first Championship win for the Celtics since 1986).
    NOTE: I might be a little biased in what I chose to represent in “sports.”

The developments of the next decade will in many ways be the further progress made against the firsts of the past decade.

And when we look beyond the Wikipedia entries, there are our own events that shaped the past decade for us—and many of them our own personal firsts. In the ‘00s, I got married; had a son; started a new job; and bought my first iPod and iPhone.

For me, the ‘00s were not a decade of nothingness. It was the beginning of something. I saw the world differently. I reimagined life and its possibilities—both for good and for bad. I was more connected—to the world around me and to the people in it.

I’ll bet that when we look back at the ‘00s with a little more time and experience under our belts, we will see the events of the past decade—both personal and universal—as starting points and firsts rather than as nothing.

What are your firsts from the first decade?

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