Independent Decade : So little time, so much to do in a wired world

Introducing a week of articles and features to mark our tenth birthday, Suzanne Moore reflects on our changing lives in a changing society
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The Independent Online
Ten years on, we can be sure of one thing only. The Eighties fizzled out somewhere during the mid-Nineties and this decade truly began.

Ronald Reagan's brain, it was declared officially, was disintegrating and Tony Blair had begun his ascent. Those standard-bearers of Eighties materialism - Lynne Franks, yuppies and estate agents - fell out of favour or became Buddhists. We were no longer comfortable with their conspicuous consumption, but we grabbed like maniacs at their accoutrements: mobile phones, fax machines, laptops.

The democratisation of technology during The Independent's first decade means more of us now live in a world of instantaneous communication. It matters not that we have little to communicate to each other, it matters simply that we can - hence those scintillating snippets of conversation one overhears on every journey. "Yes, I'm just on the train. We've just stopped at a junction . . ."

The rise of this new, imagined community of those locked on to screens, whether via the Internet, or kids' computer games has has fostered a measure of concern that we will no longer be able to tell reality from fantasy.

The reality is that there are plenty locked out of this information-rich world. They are not simply information-poor, but poor in the old-fashioned sense of not having enough money. We have over the last 10 years become increasingly used to stepping over bodies huddled in sleeping bags. We have even invented a new label for them - The Underclass.

A wired world has certainly blurred the distinction between home and work. It has undoubtedly contributed to the privatisation of leisure. The television is no longer the hearth around which the whole family gather. Instead, one child may be doing her homework on her mother's PC, her brother listening to CDs and Dad watching a video. The family meal to has given way to grazing and the ping of the microwave.

Does all this mean we have more choice, or are we living an atomised existence, deprived of any sharing, caring feelings? Yes and no. Certainly, the fear that fuels our renewed commitment to community and decency is that the whole process of individualisation has gone too far. Yet it is possible to see during the last 10 years a quest for the collective experience, whether it be through dancing in a field with thousands of others, going to a football match - or even grooving to Oasis in the very same sports stadium.

Raves, the rise of the chemical generation, the ascendancy of sports, the net-surfers, the interest in "new age" consciousness, as well as environmental politics, all point to a sense of the collective; a collective that can no longer be easily co-opted by the traditional ideologies of the left or right.

Whatever our yearnings might be, the overriding narrative of the past decade is fragmentation. Depending on where you stand, either we are going through a period of profound transition or everything is just falling apart. Either the family, our political institutions, the monarchy - even men, the poor things - are on their way out, or they are reconstructing themselves.

"Adapt or die" might be a suitable motto, though we prefer somewhat desperately to find scapegoats such as single mothers, rather than having to face up to some harsh truths. The far-reaching effects of globalisation have yet to be felt. Our anxieties have surfaced in a series of moral panics that have attained a momentum all of their own.

We have become so fretful about what we are reproducing in society that we have projected this fear on to our children. The young have become, in news story after news story, either innocent angels or murdering devils, although we continue to turn away in disbelief from the statistics on child abuse.

Intimacy itself became more dangerous once we faced up to Aids, yet as one dance record put it: "People are still having sex." The overt sexualisation of our culture continues to advance in these post-feminist, post-political days. Irony after all, remains the over-arching aesthetic. Or excuse.

Having detached itself from sex as we used to understand it, ethical dilemmas abound in the sphere of reproduction itself. Having given up on space exploration, the final frontier is now that of inner space and genetics. We still talk of genetic engineering as though it is of the future rather than the present. Science continues to vie with quasi-mystical explanations over the meaning or meaninglessness of life.

As if in response, culture has become more visceral; from Tarantino to Hirst, blood and guts are centre-stage.

Those in work do it harder than ever, but more of us now talk of the "quality of life", which can no longer be defined in purely material terms. Stress - which used to be the prerogative of the elite - has been slowly democratised. Now, anyone can be stressed out.

We complain that we don't have enough time. So little time, it seems, we can scarcely believe that another 10 years have gone by.

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