Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.

Re: New Century Debate

Author:Sidney Markowitz
Posted:8/11/1999; 10:46:56 AM
Topic:Antique (Apple) Tee-Shirt
Msg #:9345 (In response to 9338)
Prev/Next:9344 / 9346

I recently read an essay by Stephen Jay Gould in his book Dinosaur in a Haystack which finally settled the argument for me.

Some relevant points:

1) There is no Year 0. I knew the calendar started counting with 1, but it never hit home that the previous year is not called 0. We have 1 A.D. and 1 B.C. with no 0 in between.

2) The fact that there is no year 0 doesn't "prove" that the century starts in 01 year. It does point out that the calendar was not designed with a whole lot of mathematical and logical consistancy. That takes the wind out of the sails of people who argue forcefully on either side of the debate.

3) Gould knows someone who is an autistic savant (what used to be called idiot savant) who can instantly answer questions about what day of the week any date was or how many days between two dates. Gould asked him for his opinion about when the century/millennium starts. He answered that they start on the 0 year, the first decade of the calendar having 9 years and the first century having 99 years. Considering that nobody was using that calendar back then, I think it's a pretty slick answer that puts all the anomoly out of the way in the distant past.

4) Gould describes the debate on this subject that has raged each century. Popular opinion has always been in favor of treating the day that the high digits roll over as the obvious start of something new. The intelligentsia has generally started the century on the 01 year. Newspapers, magazines, and government centennial celebrations were in January 1901 last time this happened.

5) This time around it seems pretty clear that the popular opinion will win out. Gould characterizes the two sides as being those who recognize that the year rolling over from 1999 to 2000 is obviously a big event (going by feelings), and those who can logically prove that the century begins in 2001 (going by rationality). We seem to be in a culture that is more pop than ever before. I can relate to this as part of the disintermediation effect of mass media and especially the Internet. From this point of view, we may be seeing the 20th century compressed to 99 years, which is fitting considering the way in which all of us in the computer field are living on Internet time.

So I have moved off of my intellectually superior position that the century obviously begins in 2001, and have decided to enjoy the rollover from 1999 to 2000 with the same glee that I experience when my car odometer reaches 100000.

As my one concession to the other side, I intend to extend the celebration from Dec 31, 1999 all the way to Jan 2, 2001. I invite everyone on both sides of the debate to stop arguing and join the year-long party. Whether you think the party is starting early or is ending late, let's ring in the new millennium!

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