Rob Walker | Essays

The End of the 00s: Noted, Without Noteworthiness

Just the other night I was watching Anderson Cooper's variety show on CNN, and right before a commercial break, Mr. Cooper showed about seven seconds of wobbling and grainy footage of a burning truck speeding down a highway. “A burning truck on a highway,” he said (or words to that effect). He looked, and sounded, very concerned. “We'll tell how it happened, and where, right after this.”

Upon reflection I think this is the most significant moment of the past 10 years. That is because it is an event that embodies so many 21st-century events: Something is happening, somewhere, and it has no particular effect on you whatsoever. The latest details in a moment.

I do not suggest that nothing happened in the past ten years. Things happened; significant ones, good and bad. But much of what happened was not noteworthy for having happened, it was noteworthy for having been noted, despite not being particularly noteworthy. We know the space in which news can be noted is now infinite; we know the noting of news has been “democratized.” But the pace of news worth noting has not kept up.

Still, something must be noted. And so: A woman is missing, and her husband has been named a person of interest. A celebrity has turned out to be less perfect than advertised. Someone you follow on Twitter has a long delay in the Atlanta airport. A politician said something hypocritical; the politician's hypocrisy was detected by a blogger; another blogger has accused the first blogger of dishonorable bias. There's a new sex tape is making the rounds online. Somebody you met at a party two years ago likes your status. Breaking News Alert: A truck is on fire on a highway, somewhere. We will dig deeper with our panel of experts. Upload your pictures now. Leave us a comment. We're flooding the zone.

Every decade has its memorable moments. Possibly what we'll remember about this decade is all the forgettable ones.

This essay was originally published in 
The Awl, December 23, 2009. 


Comments [1]

I certainly appreciate your point. But I would say events like the 9/11 attacks, US invasion of Iraq and the mass protests, and Hurricane Katrina would be difficult for most US adults to forget. It does seem as if we are headed toward this environment of mass data smog you're describing. Particularly when the most important events now are information-dense and difficult to understand. Oh, the Dow lost 300 points? Is that bad? How bad? What's Ashton saying on Twitter?

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