A look at trends that shaped the 21st century's first decade

The Sacramento BeeJanuary 1, 2010 

Transformative. That's how the first decade of the 21st century will be known. With four key trends that seem destined to shape the nation and the world, it set the stage for a very different century.

Information revolution

Dial-up or DSL? As the year 2000 began, some Americans were starting to upgrade to a new technology called broadband, increasing their Internet speed seven-fold or more. How quaint that now seems.

Now, with the exponential increase in download speeds, people are using the Internet in vastly expanding ways. Many of us are barely even aware of it. We are simply "online," whether on our desktops, laptops, netbooks, iPhones, BlackBerrys, set-top TV devices or e-readers. And it's happening worldwide.

Threatening to take down one industry after another, the ever-quickening Internet has heralded the mobile generation. We get news, e-mail and text messages. We buy books, conduct research, book hotels, listen to radio stations and podcasts, and share videos, music and photos, and we do it anywhere, anytime and at less cost.

The rise of social networking (Facebook has 350 million users worldwide) has spawned new ways of connecting with old friends, meeting new friends or lovers, conducting business and playing games.

Age of terrorism

As the nation and the world watched the events of Sept. 11, 2001, unfold, the notion sank in quickly that things would never be the same. The worst terrorist attack ever on American soil struck at the heart of American economic power, military power and, if not for some heroic passengers on United Flight 93, political power.

Terrorists certainly had taken aim at U.S. interests before, but never like this. Sept. 11 provided a shocking awakening that, for all its military prowess, for all its economic might, America could be hit hard by a band of Third World terrorists. Osama bin Laden became a household name.

The United States launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which continue to this day. Screening lines at airports, sometimes intrusive and always inconvenient, became a permanent fixture.

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