Tomorrow Happens

...trends slamming at us from the dark

David Brin

David Brin
San Diego, California, USA
October 06
Bio David Brin’s novels have been translated into more than twenty languages, including New York Times Best-sellers that won Hugo and Nebula awards. His 1989 ecological thriller, Earth, foreshadowed cyberwarfare, the World Wide Web, global warming and Gulf Coast flooding. A 1998 Kevin Costner film was loosely adapted from his post-apocalyptic novel, The Postman. ............................................ Brin is a noted scientist, futurist and speaker who appears frequently on television (Life After People, The Universe), discussing trends in the near and far future, on subjects such as surveillance, technology, astronomy, and SETI. His non-fiction book, The Transparent Society, deals with issues of openness and security in the wired-age. ............................................. David Brin web site: Twitter: Facbook:

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NOVEMBER 12, 2009 11:22PM

Name The Decade (of miserable whiners)?

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A NY Times reporter interviewed me about naming the decade that’s about to end. 

My suggestion? That the “Noughty Oughts” might signify what a zero-time it was, with America, especially, giving in to every bad habit of self-righteous, dogmatic whining - from both ends of the political spectrum - rather than facing the future with eager, ambitious level-headed, good-natured devotion to our problem-solving heritage. 

 Note the spelling distinction vs Naughty Oughts” -- which would at least imply we had some fun being bad.  (Of course, using the simpler monicker “Zeroes” to name this decade would imply the same thing.)

And yes, sure, one end of the spectrum was worse than the other, doing us calamitous damage with Culture War.  So?  Big deal. There’s been plenty of whiny grouchitude from all sides. Look at all the bummer movies from lefty Hollywood, preaching that civilization can’t do anything right.  Ever!  No, the neocons were merely the worst... not the only... loony curmudgeons in a Nothing Decade when the Baby Boomer generation proved to be a bunch of near useless indignation junkies. Except for the scientists.  At least they kept pushing forward, against all odds.

Are better times ahead, with the end of this misbegotten decade?  Maybe the Gen Xers - typified by Obama - will be a more cheerfully pragmatic bunch. Less dogmatic.  Less obsessed with their own know-it-all rage.  Perhaps they will defeat Culture War the only way it can be... by defying their sniveling, grudge-ridden parents and returning us to the spirit of Ben Franklin.  

If they do, America may once again be a light into the future, for the world.

Proof that we’ve been crazy troglodytes...

Want to see how previous generations had a much more positive slant on the future?  Reported from the SIgma site: There is a site called that is a joy to visit. It has news clippings, postcards, etc. of how the future was seen at different times, and you can access them by decade. For example: a series of cards that came in boxes of chocolate and which date from 1900s and 1910s (There was a French series and a German one, and it is interesting to compare what scenes each thought interesting. ) But beyond the flying cars and transatlantic dirigibles and the moving sidewalks that they foresaw for the year 2000 or 2010 is the fascinating spectacle that the people wearing the motorized roller skates or stopping their aerodyne at a rooftop restaurant are clearly people of the Edwardian/Ragtime era acting as they have always acted. One of the cards shows a home television -- but naturally it is relaying an opera live performance and naturally the people who are sitting around viewing the image are wearing their opera clothes. "  

 Humorous? Sure. But compare these visions to the universally dismal projections you see nowadays, like SURROGATES  and 2012, or even WALL-E.  No wonder science fiction - the most forward looking literature, is in a steep nadir. (In America; it is thriving in places that have lifted their eyes, like China.)  

It just goes to show that no previous decade ever hated tomorrow as much as the Oughts did!

Dang, I am looking forward to the Terrific Teens.

Even though there ARE still good ideas....

Did I mention that science does march on?  Even during the neocon madness of the Noughty Oughts, the brightest kept forging ahead, revealing insights that our pragmatic kids may yet turn into wonders.  So, as I always do, I’ll list some examples:

Are Black Hole Starships Possible? ”A SBH (small Black Hole) capable of driving a starship produces Hawking radiation which ultimately gives rise to gamma rays, neutrinos, antineutrinos, electrons, positrons, protons, and antiprotons [5]. Gamma ray telescopes are already in use and thereby one might think that a careful search through the gamma ray sky could conceivably turn up evidence of an extraterrestrial starship (cf. [18]). However, gamma rays produced by a SBH in a distant starship might be extremely difficult to detect if the starship is very energy-efficient and has well-collimated exhaust jets. A BH starship using the technology we are proposing would emit gravitational radiation at nuclear frequencies. Current gravitational radiation detection experiments are optimized for much lower frequencies, and would not detect it. We propose building gravity wave detection devices of a different design.”

(Query: Can anyone cite a sci fi novel in which starships use artificially generated black holes to channel the resulting Hawking radiation as thrust?  No magical space-warpings, please.)

Sabine Kubesch at the University of Ulm in Germany and her team found that executive function - the ability to focus and avoid distraction improved after 30 minutes of aerobic endurance exercise. "Physical education should be scheduled before important subjects like mathematics and be offered before the first lesson, not at the end of the school day, as is often the case," says Kubesch.

The first global map of the solar system reveals that its edge is nothing like what had been predicted. Neutral atoms, which are the only way to image the fringes of the solar system, are densely packed into a narrow ribbon rather than evenly distributed  - a new insight on the interaction between the heliosphere — the vast bubble in which the solar system resides — and surrounding space.  Hinting at my story "The Crystal Spheres?"The Voyager 1 craft in 2004and the Voyager 2 craft in 2007 journeyed to opposite sides of this fringe region of the solar system and crossed the termination shock — where the solar wind encounters a shock that precedes the influx of particles drifting into the solar system from interstellar space. Both craft recorded the density of particles and the strength of the magnetic fields.  Both Voyager 1 and 2 missed seeing the newly found ribbon because it spans a region between their flight paths. 

Spread the word to your female writer friends about Write-em Cowgirls!  A helpful site and newsletter by Sharon Cousins.

Terrific riff on Augmented Reality (though you heard most of it here, first! ;-) by Jamais Cascio, in a venue not formerly known for tech friendliness -- The Atlantic.

Ah, but next time some news from the “War on Science...

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I haven't given it a thought until now, but considering what a terrible decade it's been: The Noxious Nils
Didn't we have this conversation before? I'm good with the Cheery O's. Or the Double O's.
You are forgetting one very important point of redemption. The television series Firefly and the movie Serenity. The only travesty is the cancellation and the lack of sequals.
This should be the decade of betrayal, now that I think of it.
How about the Double Naughts in honor of W's IQ?
There is damn little cause for optimism, regardless of how cheerfully pragmatic "America" may become. Climate change alone will clearly give us all a couple of truly woeful decades, even if we get off zero and buckle down to it. Water and food insecurities, already widespread, cannot but worsen over those next decades, as well. The topheavy distribution of our society's wealth will mean that our own country will contain many more desperate people than it can conveniently deal with. Cheerful pragmatism will be needed. It'll be put to the test frequently.

You call the strident voices dividing the country politically curmudgeons as though to see them as somehow lovable. That's okay, as far as it goes. If we can't jolly either side down off its high horse, I believe one is still obligated to love them all anyway. The trick will be to limit the spiteful damage they cause, and turn a deaf ear when they blame one another for everything that's about to go down the tubes in such a big way.

It would have been nice to face the coming trials with a more-or-less united front, but we start from quite a ways back from that.
Too bad we can't just forget the entire decade ever happened.
Noughty Oughts is way too thinky.

How about the 'OOMGs?
Though I like Noughty Oughts, I think it's a little too obscure for the functionally illiterate American public, who might think it a kind of nougat. How about the simplified "Naughts?" Or the even more simplified "Aughts?" Those have the added benefits of sounding like things that define the decade -- not, knot, ought (as in ought to grow a flippin' spine and brain, you whiny Democrats!) -- while still containing the essential zero-ness of "Noughty Ought."

Rated for the phrase "whiny grouchitude." That made me giggle.
In Clarke's "Imperial Earth," spaceships use _something_ like a singularity in their reaction drive. It has been many years since I read the book but think I'm remembering that right.

Obama isn't a GenXer. He was born a few months before me. Just on the cusp between Baby Boom and GenX.
As for the name of the decade, I'd treat the zeros as "Os" and call it the "Ooooohs", pronounced with weariness and dismay, as though remembering something unpleasant. Like:

Bob: "How was the visit with your parents, Sam?"

Sam, holding head: "Ooooooohhhhhhh . . ."
Brin replies....... Good discussion.

EXTENDED discussion is welcome at
where a really bright community really chews these issues to the bone.

(Warning, though the consensus over there is that the Bushites/neocons were monstrous, it is NOT a pure-lefty site. More techno-progressives.)

As for Obama, I am using the boundaries set by Howe in his FOURTH TURNING book, which ends the boomers at 1960. Anyway, BHO DOES fit the GenX profile.... brought up almost rootless by a hippie/boomer mom and Hero Generation grandparents.

Even if he's a boomer by DATE, he's a genexer by life experience.

Some folks characterize Boomers by their love of social justice.... well... we Boomers DID a lot for social and eco justice. My novel EARTH was a sincere (and widely credited) effort. So was THE POSTMAN.

But social justice does not define us. What defines us is utterly self-centered transcendentalist self-righteous fury. Whatever our beliefs, we tend to be ABSOLUTELY SURE that our side is wonderful and right, and of the demonic tendencies of our opponents.

We are determined to save the world... and that trait DID help to bring on many good things....

... But don't forget that Bush and the Neocons were also boomers, absolutely convinced that they were saving America and the world from lefty zealots. Red America's "culture war" against the urban/university/progressive half could not have been fomented by Fox, except for this personality trait.

Howe says, "the last two baby boomers will be tearing and screming at each other from their deathbeds.

My Millennial kids and their friends seem VASTLY more reasonable.
David, Didn't you know the Remora's from the Triangulum Galaxy, M33, NGC 589 eat Hawking radiation? And they'll work for food.
The Noughts were "The Age of Bush," pure and simple.
David, I read science fiction (including yours) from a very young age until, yeah, not too long after the beginning of this decade. Focusing on the future, on possibility (even on dystopian or horrendous possibilities), no longer seemed relevant. I'm not hopeful at the moment, though I am meta-hopeful: I hope to be hopeful again at some point.

And thanks for the awesome discussion of science that (presumably) only seems science-fictional.
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I'm an optimist and don't think the past decade was any worse than each generation sees its present. I think we hear more of the whining these days because of the unlimited media outlets that follow us throughout our day. I recently read that when postcards began their foray into America's letter writing, people were distraught because of this "unacceptable" form that was ruining the formality of letters. It's funny about those flying cars: when I used to watch the Jetsons cartoon as a girl I was sure there would be flying cars by the time I was an adult. Where are they??
Gawd, Karin. People crash into each other on the ground all the time. Why up the carnage ante by flying?
Cell phone cameras. Security cameras. Digital cameras. Reality shows. Blogs. Eye prints. Google Earth. Wall Street bonuses. "Private" sex tapes gone public. Celebrity worship. The 12-second news cycle. Twitter. Four thousand FaceBook friends.

Taking a page from Tom Wolfe: It's The Look At Me Decade.
How about "Failure of Fear" ? It's been the decade of the government trying to get us to be afraid of our neighbors. And the decade of internet millionaire wannabes, as if only vast quantities of money could bring happiness. I think the decade is ending on a positive note by electing a President who is trying to live the original American dream -- freedom, family and future.
"To Be, or Nought to Be..."

Great post, David. It hit the spot today given the never-ending negative mandates that keep rolling over the air and print-waves.

Thanks for the very cool links; especially Paleo-Future.

Let's give the Republicans the credit they so justly deserve for fucking up the world economy with deregulated Wall Street thievery, guaranteeing more seething anonymosity toward America by the Muslim world for waging pre-emptive wars in the Middle East over oil, wiping their asses on the Constitution and replacing it with the Patriot Acts, etc.

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Ah..we were a naive bunch in the 80' did we survive without technology.

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Hi! Clark in the "Empire Earth" Use _something_ spacecraft such as the uniqueness in the campaign to react. It has been many years since I read the book, but I think I remember this right. Obama is not GenXer. Was born a few months before me. Only on the threshold between births and Jenks. Thanks for informative sharing.
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Why does it even need a name? Does a century have a name?
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David, Didn't you know the Remora's from the Triangulum Galaxy, M33, NGC 589 eat Hawking radiation? dizi And they'll work for food.
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I think decades should be named as well in that case.
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Thank you so much for this post! It drives me crazy when people whine alot, but I guess everey decade is "THE DECADE" of whiners! Keep up the good work.

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Ah yes it has not been the best decade by far... certainly the worst I've had in my 37 years on this planet. Anonymous Web Proxy
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How about "Racist Revival"?
We need to be careful on what we play with. Man does not understand the workings of the universe and we may get a result that does not take decades to take effect
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Though I like Noughty Oughts, I think it's a little too obscure for the functionally illiterate American public, who might think it a kind of nougat. How about the simplified "Naughts?" turbo snake
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