Then and Now

in the lifetime of a magazine, 10 years can be an eternity. In the case of CommonWealth, they represent 44 issues on the shelf and, considering the failure rate of magazine start-ups, proud defiance of the odds. But for the rest of the world, 10 years is a decade, the smallest unit of chronology with any claim to historical meaning. Increasingly, we have come to measure time periods by the decade, and these 10-year intervals are now resonant enough to serve as titles of serious books (The Fifties) and escapist sitcoms (That ’70s Show). Some historical decades seem to spill over their definitional limits: The ’60s hardly seemed to end in 1970, and the argument over that decade’s legacy rages still. But when someone says “the ’60s,” there’s no confusion about what’s being referred to.

CommonWealth’s first decade did not start or end in classic calendar fashion, with zeroes at the end of the years. And though not without drama (the events of September 11, 2001, will certainly go in the history books), the period from spring 1996 to the present is without obvious bookends. But it is a decade nonetheless—long enough, historically speaking, for trends to start up, reveal themselves, or play out. And in Massachusetts, there is plenty that has happened in that time. In politics, we have gone through four governors; we are on our second House Speaker and second Senate President; and we have watched one of our US senators try and fail to win the nation’s highest office. In the economy, we have gone through boom and bust, but not yet boom again. The Catholic Church has endured scandal, retrenchment, and replacement of one cardinal by another. Our public schools have struggled with MCAS and NCLB. The media have changed hands, downsized, and been rattled by the Internet. No one can say that, compared with 1996, the Massachusetts of 2006 is unchanged.

To mark our 10th anniversary, CommonWealth lined up five of the sharpest writers and observers we know to take stock of changes in Massachusetts life over the past decade. Some have gone even further, identifying trends in the larger world and reflecting on Massachusetts’s role in them. The resulting essays form a collage of our Commonwealth in the age of CommonWealth—and beyond.

From white collar to white coat By Rosabeth Moss Kanter
An Emersonian transformation under way By Christopher Lydon
New England is new once again By Ilan Stavans
A turn toward the flat and bland By Joan Vennochi
The more things change, the more we stay the same By Alan Wolfe