For Release December 28, 1999

The End of an Era

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

I spent a lot of time thinking about this weekís column. Do I write my typical end of year odds and ends, clean out the closet type of column? Do I ignore all the millennium hoopla? After all, Iíve already written my feelings about these false millennium celebrations. But the truth is, Friday is the end of an era, an era that has lasted for 1,000 years. Come Saturday morning, we will start writing the date with a year that starts with the number 2, not the number 1. No, I couldnít let this once in a thousand years opportunity to be philosophical pass without making special comment! So if you get to the end of this column and youíre confused about what I was trying to say... good, I probably got you to thinking!

If you really want to get overwhelmed, take a few minutes and reflect on what has happened since December 31, 1899 or even since December 31, 999. Think about the governments, countries and civilizations that have risen and fallen in the last 100 or 1,000 years. Think about the technological changes.

We think about the informational revolution of the last 50 years, but think about Gutenberg and his invention of the movable type in the 1400s. The paperback novel was still a few centuries away, but now books didnít have to be painstakingly copied by hand, they could be mass produced. Books were no longer for the rich only. The computer was just the natural evolution of Gutenbergís movable type.

One hundred years ago, food production took over half the population of the United States, now it takes about 2% of the population. That funny little grass plant from the Ukraine that the Mennonites brought over is now grown on more Kansas acres than any other crop in the state. Yet it, and all our other crops, are changing faster than we can comprehend. Designer crops, manipulated to provide just the right amount of protein and combination of amino acids, are just around the corner. And as we have fewer and fewer Americans involved in the production of our food, we have fewer and fewer people who know where their food comes from.

Have you ever thought about what a new day means, or a new month, a new year and so on. Time is an endless transition. There is no abrupt change from today to tomorrow. We cycle through light and dark and we arbitrarily decide that halfway through the night, midnight, we start a new day. And every seven days we repeat the cycle of days. Every 365 or 366 days we start a new year and so on and so on. Man made arbitrary divisions that we try to line up with the rotations of the earth around itís axis and the movement of the earth around the sun.

But they are simply ways to help us keep track. Do we suddenly become a new person come tomorrow morning? Do we start a new life at midnight this Friday? Probably not. Most of us will be pretty much who we are Saturday morning that we were Friday morning regardless of what resolutions we may have made. Changes, both for individuals and societies, come slowly. I see how things have changed in the 40, or so, years of my awareness and some is good and some isnít so good.

But we arenít set on a course that can not be changed. If we each start working on ourselves and what we can change then slowly we, and society, can change too. But you canít depend on a new year to change you. You have to want to change and you have to be willing to work on it. Nothing worth having is ever easy. Happy New Year and Happy New Life!


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