I Miss the Old Millennium It had so much history, especially that last part, and it was all so pre-virtual. Do you remember how important it seemed at the time?
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Something about Hastings...the French fighting the English for some reason...and then a couple of Italians figured out how to paint in three dimensions...and then there was some guy who discovered germs or something...and then, bang! TV.

Ah, the old millennium! I'm already starting to forget you, my dear. It happens. You think at the time all that stuff is making an impression on you, that it will never leave your mind, your heart. But things catch up with you, you get busy, and pretty soon you can't conjure up what was going on at that most important year of your life, what she looked like, why you wanted whatever it was so badly, why you cared. Can anybody remember what happened during the first thousand years of the current era? Beowulf. That's about it, huh?

And yet...it was a great millennium, this last one! I don't want to see it go. I want to hold it close for a moment before it slips away.

It began, like I said, in 1066, when Ralph Hastings hosted a big party on his field, which was huge. Only English guys were invited, with their wives, of course. That made the French angry, because they were right across the Channel and felt left out. This was before the invention of cheese, even, so the French were very different and warlike. They attacked and there was a big fight and that's why the French rule England today. Except they don't, because later on they kind of left or something, and the Anglo-Saxons moved in and took over everything, and that's the way it stayed until recently, when they all moved to Connecticut and left England to Eurotrash, supermodels, and former Socialists.

In 1200 or thereabouts, Pope John felt there wasn't enough freedom for people, so he tinkered around with several big policies, which he put on public signs people could post everyplace, which were called Cartas. He started out with a smaller one, which they called the Micro Carta, then moved on to the Midi Carta, and finally settled on this really big one that gave white men who owned things already an amazing amount of freedom, as if they didn't have it already. This, of course, was the famous Magna Carta, which was very long and extremely hard to read, because people spoke Middle English back then.

Before long the Middle Ages were ending, mostly because people were incredibly bored. Around 1400, anybody with four good limbs got on a horse and went to kill other people for what they believed in. This was called the Crusades, and they succeeded in pretty much blowing the world wide open. People who thought they had seen everything got to hack strangers to pieces and take their women as chattel. Things went nuts for a while and pretty soon it was the Renaissance, because once you let a little light into a musty room it's hard not to tear down the entire window treatment and start over with a new one.

Science was invented, and Copernicus realized that the world did not revolve around Poland. This impressed Galileo, who told Newton, who discovered Gravity, and the race for nuclear weapons was on. We can't possibly go over all the scientific achievements of the last millennium here, but suffice it to say that as far as science goes, it was outstanding. In fact, it's quite possible that, with the current rise in spiritualism and decline in scholarship, we have seen the best and now must live with the rest. Already, inferior science is superseding the great work of the past 1,000 years, and odd, semi-poetic conceits like string theory, warm-blooded dinosaurs, and creationism in Kansas are taking the place of the good, solid stuff we grew up with.

Lest we be accused of being Euro- or phallo-centric, it should be mentioned that China, Africa, South America, and Asia all had a lot of history during the last 1,000 years, as did women. For the most part, all we know about these aspects of the millennium are Marco Polo, Vietnam, and Martha Stewart. Marco Polo, as you recall, went to China and found spaghetti. Europe took over Africa and ran it for a long time and almost wrecked it. Martha Stewart you already know. She will not be forgotten.

Not so with older, and just as crucial, events. In 1465, for instance, the first bourgeoisie was developed in Holland--a class of people more interested in shopping, housing, and family life than they were in world domination. This is an undervalued accomplishment of Western civilization, but one that I look back on fondly. No bourgeoisie, no you and me. Up with them!

More recently, two economic systems were invented that shaped the world as we know it today. In 1776, as the chimes of liberty were ringing from the teapot dome in Philadelphia, Adam Smith invented capitalism, a very, very good economic system that leads to happiness and freedom for everybody. Sometime later, Karl Marx formulated communism, a very, very bad economic philosophy that produced untold human misery. Today, communism has lost everywhere but in Cuba and Seattle, and capitalism is now perched on the verge of total world domination, the economy of the entire planet being run by one gigantic multinational steering group that will make things much better for everybody.

This almost brings us to the 20th century, and that's completely ignoring the Hundred Years War, the Gutenberg Bible, Napoleon, a whole lot of things about Mexico, and the Industrial Revolution. And how about the last 100 years! It's almost as if we've had more history since the turn of the last century than in the 1900 years preceding it--or the six billion years before that! I can't even begin to get to it all. There were the usual wars, of course, but also the great technological milestones that brought us where we are today: the creation of the automobile, the airplane, the radio, the television, the computer, NutraSweet, the palmtop, the cellular phone, basic cable service, those teeny satellite dishes that can go just about anywhere. Burma turned into Myanmar but didn't stop torturing dissidents. Cambodia became Kampuchea, then went back to Cambodia again. Remember when these things were new and important? How they changed our lives?

No, you don't. And neither do I. That's because it's already a new millennium. And all these things, people, places, accomplishments...well, they're all fading, aren't they...all becoming as relevant to us as the Venerable Bede was to Ben Franklin. In a couple of years, we're not going to care about either of them either.

But the convergence of video and computers...now, that's interesting!

By day, STANLEY BING is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name.