When you wake up Jan. 1, chances are the world will look exactly as you left it the day before. You will be the same. Your friends and family will be the same. No great shift in our societal tastes, values or habits will have taken place overnight.
Yet there is great symbolic power in the breaking of a new year. Yes, maybe you will finally lose those 10 pounds! Maybe you will keep in better touch with your family! This may be the year you reconsider retirement. Or, if you're among the unemployed, this may be the year you find a job. America is essentially a country of optimists; we like to believe in the power of transformations, fresh starts.
And so something peculiar tends to happen every year in the lull between Christmas and New Year's Day. Suddenly, these people with funny titles — "trendspotters," "futurists" — and an air of expertise start popping up in newspapers, magazines and TV programs. Armed with market research (the crystal balls our era, surely), they come spewing forth predictions about the year to come. And in light of the first wave of boomers turning 65 next year, some of those predictions are starting to look really interesting.
Meanwhile, every critic, columnist or cable newscaster becomes a historian of the year that preceded. We go along for the ride, getting all googly-eyed reflecting on the year's top technology trends, best books or weirdest weird news.
And what's the harm, really? A little reflection never hurt anyone. We certainly don't want to begrudge anyone the fun of looking back and looking forward. So let's bring on the trendcasters, bring on the cultural critics. Are you ready? This was the year that was! This is the year to come!