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For the week of Dec. 29, 1999 through Jan. 4, 2000

The century’s last editorial

The end of a century is a big deal. The end of a millennium and the beginning of a new one is a bigger one. Yet, try as we might we haven’t been able to develop a lot of enthusiasm for the millennial hoopla.

Some people are marking the big change by making lists—the top 10 or top 100 of everything. The lists are piling up like snowflakes and threatening to drift.

The New York Times decided to end the century time by stuffing a time capsule full of memorabilia. We thought about gathering up some old skis, poles and boots, a snowboard, a transistor radio, some old Elvis records, and creating our own.

Then, it hit us: Newspapers are time capsules.

The New York Times discovered that putting any kind of electronic data—CDs, tapes, videos, computer disks—into its time capsule wouldn’t work for two reasons. First, electronic data is fragile, easily destroyed by heat, cold and magnetic fields. Second, even if the data survived the next century or more, chances are that the devices that can read the electronic data won’t survive.

It turns out that even though newsprint and book paper turn yellow and curl up, they are still the most durable recording devices around—with a little help from microfilm.

On Dec. 31, 1899, the Wood River Times in Hailey looked back upon the century about to end. Publisher T. E. Picotte’s paper called it "The Greatest Century."

"One hundred years ago there were practically but two classes of people in the world. The kings and their subjects; maters and slaves. Today our Bill of Rights has become the Gospel of Civilizations…

"The nineteenth century must remain the greatest of the ages because it was during its course that the forces of nature were subdued to the uses of man. The steamboat, the railroad, the telegraph, the telephone, the water courses, all have been either invented since its dawn or adapted to our benefit. The progress that has ensued is gigantic. General ease has replaced widespread destitution. A peasant today has more comfort in his [life] but than had a monarch in his palace at the beginning of the century.

"The century will also be remarkable because of the birth of a new doctrine. Wars of conquest are no longer possible. Unless waged in the interest of civilization, of humanity as a whole, the world will not tolerate them."

The words were the contents of the time capsule—a message from long ago. The author was an optimist. So are we, but less certain ones.

Remarkable things happened in the 20th Century (see lists). As we leave it and the last thousand years behind, we have big hopes that we print here as our message to the future.

We are comfortable in the richest country on earth, yet uneasy about the world around us. We see glimpses of what the future may hold.

Like our 19th Century forbears, we go on hoping that wars of conquest and genocide will no longer be possible.

We hope people of different religious, cultural and political persuasions put away the bombs and weapons of mass destruction for good.

We hope racism, sexism, ageism—all the things that keep people from realizing their potential—become things of the past.

We hope for cures for the terrible diseases we fear—cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, AIDs, multiple sclerosis, diabetes—to name a few.

We hope genetic engineering achieves its great potential—without its dark side

We hope people find a way to clean up the nuclear waste we continue to generate every day and to make it safe.

We hope people come into balance with the earth and that conservation of resources becomes the common wisdom instead of a radical idea.

We hope that at the end of the 21st century, the nation and Idaho will still have wild animals, wild waters and wild places where people may seek and find spiritual refreshment.

We hope the new hybrid gas-electric cars help clean up the air in cities. At the same time, we hope we figure out how to keep every town and city from turning into snarls of highways and seas of asphalt parking spaces.

We hope computers become less frustrating to use. We hope the sci-fi writers are wrong and that computers will always serve man, and not vice-versa.

We hope we don’t forget our history and are not doomed to repeat it. We hope that some day all people are free.

In the Wood River Valley, we people never lose the joy of playing in the snow or the pleasure of loosening hiking boots at the end of a day on the trail.

Goodbye 20th Century. We’ll remember you.

Hello 21st. Let’s make it a good start on the next thousand years.


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Copyright 1999, 2000 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.