Everybody - well, nearly everybody - is making lists of the most important people of the decade/century/millenium/eternity. I promise not to do that, but I did test myself on the subject. Biography magazine had a "100 People, 1000 year Quiz." It gave very short sketch of the achievements of each of the people whom the writers considered the hundred most important of the millennium -- an admittedly unscientific poll.
And to put it in equally unscientific terms, I did worse than I had hoped, but better than I feared. Aging memories have trouble remembering the names of people we met yesterday, but tend to remember who discovered the principle of gravity. The first "100 year people" question said, "If it hadn't been for the top ranking person, there would be only handwritten books. His invention, the printing press, developed in the 1430's, changed written communication, making information widely available." That was, of course, Johannes Guttenberg, and I hope that nobody who reads this newspaper would have missed that one. But how many of us could have identified Chu Yuan-chang or remembered Brunelleschi?
Unfortunately, a couple of outstanding citizens failed to make the list. Kermit the Frog traveled to England to address the Oxford Union Society, the world's largest literary and debating society. The Union has hosted such other luminaries as Mother Teresa and former President Reagan. (They didn't make the list either). His on again off again fiancÚ, Miss Piggy, serves as a model for girls who are worried about their figures. She commented once, "Never eat more than you can lift."
It has been a cultural millenium, with the written word and the electronic word both arriving on the planet. The best the cave man could do was carve up the walls of his cave with a bone knife and shout at his fellow-hunters. Now I have access to great libraries, and can communicate instantly with anyone in the world. Some days I think the cave man had the best of it.
The millenium is going out with a bang, what with planes, trains and automobiles and two major world wars, to say nothing of uncounted undeclared ones -- just in the last tenth of it. Earlier millennia had lots of wars, but they were fought with spears and elephants, while we have fighter planes and atom bombs. One wonders about progress
But I'd rather go out of this one on a lighter note. One thing that the electronic age has brought us
is a plethora of trivia and e-mail "humor" (often questionable humor)!
F'rinstance -- if you think our concerns over Y2k are serious, here is a part of a letter passed along to me by an Internet friend.
"Rome, August 12, 1 B.C. Dear Plotonius: Are you still working on the Y zero K problem? This change from B.C. to A.D. is giving us a lot of headaches, and we haven't much time left. Having been working happily downwards forever, now we have to start thinking upwards. We called in the astrologer Consultius, but he simply said that continuing downwards using minus B.C. won't work. As for myself, I just can't see the sand in an hour glass flowing upwards. Some say the world will cease to exist at the moment of transition. Anyway, we are continuing to work on this blasted Y zero K problem, and I will send you a parchment, as I have had a terrible case of inscriber's syndrome ever since you sent us the new high-speed rewriteable tablets. Cassius"
To celebrate the season, this posting came from one of my other e-mail junkie friends -- a dignified and church-going woman. "You know what would have happened if there had been three wise women instead of three wise men, don't you? They would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the Baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole and given practical gifts."
Marilyn vos Savant is not intimidated by our new world. Asked, "Is there anything in the world not affected by technology," she replied "Yes. There's truth, beauty, love and the hiccups."
I wonder who will make the Outstanding 100 list in 3000.