Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010

The Long View

In our networked world, nothing ever goes away, but nothing seems to last very long either. At the very same moment, ephemeral things seem permanent, and what should be permanent vanishes in an instant. Even the most defining stories of our time can become casualties of hit-and-run journalism, measured in second-by-second spikes of traffic. That's why, with this first TimeFrames issue, we take a longer view. At the end of an extraordinary decade, we revisit the major stories of the past 10 years and write about what we've learned. Information these days is a commodity; understanding is scarce. This issue — a cover-to-cover analysis spanning politics, science, culture and society — is devoted to making sense of the first decade of the 21st century and what it might presage about the future.

I've always gotten a little annoyed when people smugly recite the George Santayana quote about those who cannot remember the past being condemned to repeat it. The past is never a perfect prologue, and we keep on making mistakes not because we've forgotten the past but because we're human. That never -changes. The breakdowns and miscommunications underlying some of the most important events of this decade — the 2000 U.S. election, 9/11, the Iraq war, the SARS outbreak — all stem from human fallibility.

Michael Grunwald's powerful look at the legacy of Hurricane Katrina suggests that at almost all levels, Katrina was a man-made disaster, not a natural one. Bobby Ghosh, our longtime Baghdad bureau chief, returns to Iraq only to conclude that the mutual ignorance between Americans and Iraqis led to all kinds of false assumptions that resulted in tragedy.

And we at TIME didn't always get it right either: Joe Klein's column is about a policy that he supported in 2004 — the partial privatization of Social Security — which he now describes as 'positively idiotic.' So often, unquestioning certainty about a path or response or policy can lead to calamity. This issue is designed to question many of the perceived certainties of the past decade and thereby convert news into history.

This issue was put together with many hands and used a great many TIME resources. But it is really the creation of executive editor Nancy Gibbs, who curated the stories, edited them (with able assistance from former TIME editor Steve Koepp) and wrote a perceptive introduction to the major ones. The special design of this issue, which we hope to do annually, was spearheaded by senior art director Christine Dunleavy.