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High-tech gadgets, lowbrow culture

We are calling this the Decade of the Fan because calling it the Decade of the Ever-More-Addicted Television Viewer seemed a bit churlish.

There is no denying that the past 10 years saw something fundamentally change in the relationship of people to their culture - a form of populist uprising that left no moment of our leisure time unscathed.

As 2000 dawned, powerful media outlets orchestrated the arrival of Y2K with round-the-world celebrations broadcast on TV (some of it tape-delayed).

As the decade ended, the death of Michael Jackson spawned dozens of flash mobs around the world, thousands of YouTube tributes, millions of blog posts and billions of text messages.

Everywhere it seemed that ordinary people were using cheap and robust technology to produce, consume and comment on culture, exercising powers that had previously been off-limits to the untrained. They broke the back of the music business with the aid of iPods and social networks. They humbled the newspaper industry with the help of Google. They raised the existential question of what exactly are radio and television.

The decade began with entertainment companies seeing red over fans downloading megabytes of free music using Napster. It ended with fans downloading terabytes of music given away by iTunes, Amazon and the musicians themselves.

It began with Internet video restricted to Melba toast-sized movies. It ended with fans streaming TV shows and movies in full-screen HD over broadband.

It began with SurvivorSucks.com giving away spoilers to upcoming episodes of a wildly popular reality show. It ended with fans griping about tweets that spoiled the shows that awaited them on their DVRs.

It began with arts organizations fretting over big donors, whose portfolios took a hit in the dot-com collapse. It ended with those same groups turning to small and individual donors after watching institutional support get battered by Sept. 11 and an economic meltdown.

Whether directly or indirectly, technology seemed to exert a multiplier effect across the culture. The average TV set used to get 50 channels, then 200, and then we lost count.

"The Osbournes" launched a whole new subgenre of reality TV - celebrities at home, unguarded - that in no time took over entire networks and turned everyday people like Jon and Kate Gosselin into celebs (and even bigger train wrecks than Ozzy and Sharon).

Every city could claim reality-TV stars. Popular entertainment took on mind-boggling complexity, from "World of Warcraft" to the multiplatform narrative of "Lost" to the Blu-ray box sets brimming with extras.

News channels blitzed viewers with on-screen tickers, infographics and walls of flat panels. New video-game systems went way beyond the teen market to entice almost every lifestyle, including seniors and people who exercise.

To be sure, much of this was a continuation of trends that began in the 1990s. And lest anyone confuse the 2000s with the farmers' uprising of the 1890s, every populist urge was anticipated by the big corporations, though not all were able to adapt to the demands of the gizmo-wielding public.

If the 2000s began with the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and ended with "Twilight" mania, the marketing of the latter was more complex and diffuse, including a huge outreach at the country's largest pop-culture gathering, San Diego's Comic-Con, which more than doubled in size since 1999.

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