THINKing about 2010-2019: Where we started, how we grew and where we might go

We asked some of the writers, activists and experts of this decade to hold a mirror up to this century's teen years.
The last decade has been a collective national adolescence, for better and for worse.
The last decade has been a collective national adolescence, for better and for worse.Chelsea Stahl / NBC News
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By THINK editors

When the 21st century dawned a generation ago, everyone acknowledged that the coming years would likely bring social, economic, political and technological changes. But few people could anticipate just what that transformation would look like and the growing pains it would entail.

Almost no one predicted that, in 2019, America would be led by the New York businessman who'd failed to secure the Reform Party nomination in 1999, let alone that the perception of race relations in the United States would see a steep decline after the rise of a new civil rights movement, that Americans would largely reject religion and embrace same-sex marriage, or that everyone would have a smartphone and close to everyone would support some sort of marijuana legalization.

You might have expected the cost of college to keep rising — but never fathomed how staggering the sums would become. You might have thought that women would still be fighting for control of their bodies — but never considered that cryopreservation would be one of their most powerful weapons. You might have thought a blonde pop princess might yet rule our charts, but would you have expected survivors of sexual violence to start a global movement to take back far, far more than the night? And who would've thought that our reaction to the possible end of the natural world as we know it would be to sink into our couches and immerse ourselves in elaborate alternate movie universes based on comic books that started the millennium with a steeply declining readership?

If the aughts were about learning to live in the America into which we were born post-9/11 — the beginning of the 21st century of the United States is as defined by that cataclysm as anything else — then this decade has been a collective national adolescence, for better and for worse. It was a time of both hope and its death, of growth and retreat, of defiance and capitulation, of angst and righteous clarity, of falling for anything and also believing nothing.

So as we now move into the 2020s, THINK asked some of the writers, activists and experts of this decade to hold a mirror up to this century's teen years, and talk about where we've been and why, and maybe — if we're lucky — how we can move forward in the decade to come.

Each day through Jan. 1, 2020, THINK will publish two essays on some of the issues that have shaped our decade.

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A decade of Black Lives Matter gives us a new understanding of Black liberation, by Patrisse Cullors

How our phones became our whole lives in just 10 years, by Jessa Jones

College in the U.S. is at a crossroads. Will it increase social mobility or class stratification?, by Mitchell L. Stevens

The 'me too' movement's success took a decade of work, not just a hashtag. And there's more to do, by Tarana Burke

The decade in LGBTQ: Pop culture visibility but stalled political progress, by John Paul Brammer

Egg freezing and IVF in the 2010s brought us the next phase in women's lib, by Natalie Lampert

How Netflix, Star Wars and Marvel redefined Hollywood — and how we experience movies, by Brian Moylan

Opioids, pot and criminal justice reform helped undermine this decade's War on Drugs, by Zachary Siegel

Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Gaga, Pink and Kesha cleared the way for women in the 2010s, by Maura Johnston

Climate change became a burning issue in the past decade, but also an opportunity, by Carl Pope

Celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow made the 2010s the decade of health and wellness misinformation, by Tim Caulfield

White Christian America ended in the 2010s, by Robert Jones

Please check back in the coming days for the newest pieces in our series.