Revisiting the New York Times’ 2001 “Year In Ideas”


This week, the New York Times Magazine was dedicated to their newly traditional Year In Ideas thinkpiece. It’s always a fantastic collection of new discoveries, shifts in ways of thinking, and products that we’re likely to hear more about in years to come. It tries, in many ways, to be predictive; to isolate still-germinating concepts that will shape the world.

I thought, therefore, that it made sense to see how they did. In the spirit of the end of the decade, I looked back at their first Year In Ideas released in December of 2001. Heavy on concepts that emerged following the terrorist attacks (such as “American Imperialism, Embraced”) and the Internet (“Populist Editing”), the series was born at a fascinating moment in American history.

While I’m not a scientist or a fashion designer, I did my best to gauge how much impact each “idea” actually had – if, in essence, it was viable. By my count, of the 77 ideas presented, over half (40 or so) are still relevant in 2009. About 30% aren’t. Many others I considered “maybes” – I just don’t know enough to make the call.

Maybe you do. Check out the full list below, complete with links to the original article, and share your wisdom. The Internet was made for arguments.

The idea Description Still viable? Why or why not?
A Better Golf Ball A new dimpling pattern on Callaway golf balls. Yes? Not a golfer, but it seems they’re still using and refining this concept.
Acquired Situational Narcissism The idea that narcissism can be emergent, as opposed to life-long. Yes More discovery than theory, this one has ample evidence backing it up.
Air Taxis There is a viable business model for small jets at small airports that can be hired on an as-needed basis. No There is, however, a model for smaller jets combined into regional carriers, as we’ve seen since 2001.
American Imperialism, Embraced Embracing the stereotypical role of America as the world’s policeman. No What is described is a nascent neo-con movement, a little over a year before the invasion of Iraq.
Announced Assassinations Israel asks that the Palestinian Authority arrest someone, or they will kill him. Maybe Unclear if this is still common practice.
Apes Have Culture, Too Apes pass on cultural traditions. Yes Scientific discovery.
Artificial Chromosomes Adding custom chromosomes to existing arrays of genes. Yes In fact, this year’s glow-in-the-dark dog used a similar process.
Attaching Good Genes to Bad Viruses Changing the genetic content of viruses to provide a supplement instead of a detriment. Yes Genetic engineering is still a huge area of research, including this particular idea.
Battleswarm Transitioning from traditional military tactics to pods of soldiers networked together. Yes Rethinking how troops are used is an ongoing evolution, though the specifics of this technique may not be the end result.
Beauty Is Back Post-modernism’s turn away from aesthetics has been reversed. Maybe I’m a little surprised to hear that beauty was out of fashion.
Blame the Brokers The dot-com bubble’s bursting is blamed on the brokers who were peddling the stocks in the first place. Yes 2008’s iteration was the hold on selling stocks short in the midst of the credit crisis.
Cheating Is Part of the Game Bending the rules of sport to gain an advantage. Yes This, too, seems to be as much observation as idea. People cheat – always have, always will.
Cloning Endangered Species Preserving threatened species by cloning them. No While this may still be done, it certainly isn’t common in my observation.
Communal Bereavement Grief for those you’ve never met can have the same physical impact as grief for those you have. Yes A discovery, as opposed to a new concept.
“Content” The blending of commercialism and content generation. Yes Common practice, for better or worse.
Corporate Jujitsu Using your opponents’ strengths against them. Maybe Building off two real-world examples, it’s hard to say if this ever became a trend.
Designer Truth Commissions Creating custom commissions to help nations and even communities deal with trauma. Yes A great piece in the New Yorker this year looked at how Rwanda is still employing something similar.
Distroboto Selling things yourself in cigarette vending machines. No Beyond adaptations at airports and in Japan, this hasn’t really gone anywhere.
Dropper Popper A toy that, when dropped, bounces high into the air. No This isn’t even an idea. Perhaps it’s an example of “content” sponsored by Toys ‘R’ Us?
Every Happy Country Is Happy in Its Own Way A social scientist develops a way to compare the happiness of nations. Yes Denmark is currently the world’s happiest country.
False-Identification Prevention If witnesses are shown possible perpetrators one at a time, there are fewer false positives than when picking from a group. Maybe I don’t know if this is now common practice, but if Law and Order is any indication – it ain’t.
Final Scratch A system for DJs to use old-fashioned turntables to mix digital sound. No Well, maybe. What do I know. But I think most DJs are still using vinyl on their Tecnics.
Focus on the Negative Instead of emphasizing positive thinking, preparing for negative outcomes can be helpful. Maybe While possibly valid counseling, it’s hard for me to gauge its success.
Focus-Group Hypnosis Hypnotizing focus groups to get better results. No A marketing gimmick presented as an innovation. Time- and cost-prohibitive.
Forget the Art — It’s All About the Building For an institution, the art often plays second fiddle to a big, new building. No The Times just last Saturday ran an article repudiating this idea.
Genetic Pollution Genetically modified crops could pollute the non-modified Yes There has been a great deal of attention paid to ensuring this doesn’t happen.
Global Antiretroviralism Providing anti-retroviral drugs to developing countries. Yes While we’re still working out full distribution, thousands of lives have been saved with this idea.
Global-Warming Lawsuits To combat global warming when polluters won’t take action, some small countries are taking them to court. Maybe I leave this to the experts, although Earthjustice’s ad campaigns indicate they’re still in this business, if only metaphorically.
History Turns on the Tiniest Things Minor things in history that ended up changing the world significantly. Yes Surprisingly, this article wasn’t written by Malcolm Gladwell.
Hybrid Cars Self-explanatory. Yes Now seen as a critical intermediary step to reducing gasoline consumption.
Hygiene is a Hazard Using anti-bacterials and overusing antibiotics reduces adaptation to illnesses, making us sicker. Yes The idea that we’re unhealthy because we don’t eat dirt pops back up as a trends piece every few months.
Infantilized Adults Adults who act like teenagers. Sadly This is the story of Hollywood this decade. Also, ever met a hipster?
Justice Without Borders An attempt to develop guidelines for crimes that would have universal jurisdiction. Maybe An expert could answer this better than I, though it seems unlikely that the United States signed on to this between 2001 and 2008.
Kustom Customization of vintage clothes to look more modern. Yes Vintage, in its infinite forms is still big, and remaking old styles is common.
Laptop Composing Musical artists can create works from the comfort of their own laptops. Yes Girl Talk, anyone?
Nonromantic Dating Speed dating. Yes Given that I can describe it as speed dating and you know what it is, this one obviously stuck around.
Old Masters Cheated Some famous painters traced their paintings. Maybe This discovery raised awareness about technique, to be sure, and may have reduced prices – but didn’t fundamentally change the art world, as fas as I can tell.
One E-Mail Message Can Change the World The power of an email to change popular thinking. Yes An early ode to the power of a single message to become a meme.
Open Sperm Donation Making common the practice of revealing the identities of sperm donors. Maybe No idea if this is common, I’m happy to report.
Pharmacogenomics Prescribing drugs that tackle a precise genomic problem. Yes Still not in common practice, from my understanding, but something being researched.
Play With Your Food Foods for kids that blur the boundary between play thing and comestible. Yes There are still a number of products on the market that are as fun (I guess) as they are delicious (I guess).
Populist Editing Wikipedia. Yes Ever heard of Wikipedia?
Positive Asymmetry Using an imbalance in resources to a positive effect. Yes More a description of an understood conceptualization than anything.
Prayer Works A study seems to show that prayer can impact the likelihood of getting pregnant. No I can’t find evidence this study has been repeated – only the contrary.
Precautionary Principle Taking action based on limited data to sooner combat negative effects. No If this had taken hold, Copenhagen would be a 3-hour summit.
Quarterbacks as Middle Managers Quarterbacks merely manage plays, but don’t need to be stars for a team to win. No Tom Brady.
Reissues Designers reissuing old designs. Maybe Not my forte. But if you count Canal Street, I’d say this is still pretty common.
Return to Segregation The 2000 Census revealed increasing racial segregation in communities. Maybe We’ll see after the 2010 Census, I suppose.
Self-cooling Buildings Buildings that incorporate systems to cool without using air conditioning. Yes Part of a now-common trend toward environmental construction.
Simputer A computer that has only a touchscreen and stores info in the cloud. Yes Although still evolving.
Slow Food Enjoying artisanal and other foods that take longer to prepare as a statement and means to be healthy. Yes This is a component of the very modish local and organic foods movement.
Social-Norms Marketing Combatting misconceptions about common behavior to reduce unwanted activity. Yes Telling the truth is generally a good strategy to provide information.
Steganography Goes Digital Burying data within an electronic file that purports to be something else. Yes Still something under consideration in security circles.
Super-slow Exercise Super-slow exercise. No Yoga, maybe. Otherwise, no one does this.
Telesurgery Remote surgical procedures. Yes While not common, this is still a technique considered acceptable.
The All-Species Inventory A foundation that seeks to catalog all existing species within a short time period. No The foundation wasn’t able to raise enough funding to survive. Somewhat coincidentally.
The Consciously Constructed Sexual Paradox People who celebrate modesty while embracing a more salacious appearance. Yes The current example is Miley Cyrus (and, to a lesser extent, the Jonas Brothers). The example given in the piece: Britney, whose then-proclaimed virginity was later recanted.
The Cram-Down To get more funding, owners of start-ups are forced to reduce their stake in the business. Maybe The one real-world example they use is of, which I don’t think I’ve ever heard of. If this is still common, it doesn’t seem too successful.
The Crawl After 9/11, crawls of important stories became ubiquitous on television news. Yes The crawl was so big that when CNN revised its last year, that made news.
The End of Shoelaces Shoes that cling to the foot. No [ This space intentionally left blank. ]
The Fewer the Episodes, the Better the Show Limiting how many episodes are expected of a show can improve quality. Yes The example in the piece isn’t a good one. Here’s a better example: compare the British and American versions of The Office. Case in point.
The Game That Plays You Use of the web for marketing campaigns that simulate reality. Yes This is now a more mature way of engaging people in a new product.
The Lie Detector That Scans Your Brain Certain types of brain waves are triggered upon recognition of an object – scanning these can demonstrate knowledge. No “He predicts that by 2005, brain mappers will be able to automatically scan the skulls of everyone going through airports to search for potential hijackers.”
The Moratorium Gambit Instead of seeming weak on crime by banning executions, using the concept of a moratorium to stop them while still claiming support. No An interesting political move, but not something that was sustained over the decade.
The Open-Source Celebrity Building conceptions around what celebrities are like that are fictional. No Slash fiction seems to be the final resting place of this trend. (Don’t Google that if you don’t know what it is.)
The Right Not to Be Born A French court granted compensation to a child born with disabilities whose mother couldn’t get an abortion. No Beyond likely pilot projects in the Deep South, this idea doesn’t seem to have gained much traction.
The Torpedo A particular variety of hockey intended to combat another variety of hockey. No idea I’m not a hockey fan.
The Video-Game Workout Games like Dance Dance Revolution give you exercise along with your fun. Yes Wii Fit.
The White House Doesn’t Need the Press The White House doesn’t need press to make its case to the public, and will be drama-free. No The invasion of Iraq was heavily dependent on the press. While the engagement may have taken a novel form, it still was important.
The ‘X-Files’ Conspiracy Trope Is Dead 9/11 proves that the government is incapable of the vast conspiracies that, over time, had been attributed to it. No Until, of course, 9/11 itself was attributed to it. Government conspiracies are a long way from dead. (See also: Birthers.)
Transcending Equations Instead of developing equations to answer questions about nature, we should run programs with an output eventually refined enough to mimic the real world. Yes We’ve seen a number of ways in which computer simulations have resolved questions about the world, and the article’s reference to Stephen Wolfram certainly lends current credence.
Turning a Bad Drug Good Repurposing abused substances as medical treatments. No One example is given, and no one seems to be dipping into their heroin supply to treat a headache.
Unilateral Separation Israel cordoning itself off from Palestinians. Yes Self-evident.
Weather-Forecasting A toaster that imprints the day’s weather on your toast. Sort of As a celebration of integrating Internet-based information into more common activities, this is dead-on. As a description of a product anyone would ever use, nope. Even if the price has since dropped from $2,100.
Winning Isn’t Everything Michael Jordan’s stint with the Wizards taught him the meaning of the game. No No, it didn’t. His Hall of Fame speech was widely criticized for settling old grudges.
Your Very Own Breakfast Cereal General Mills making cereals to order. No My Honey Nut Cap’n Crunch Choculas never really caught on.
Zeroing In on a Killer Identifying likely criminals by narrowing down the probable area in which they reside. Maybe Crime experts could weigh in on how common this is, but the increase in use of geospatial tools makes this seem pretty likely.

Have a tip we should know?

Filed Under: