Interviews by Hayden Higgins
This percussive speech act, mesmerizing and excruciating, felt like a memorial to that thin slice of time.
Most Important: In October, former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was found guilty of second-degree murder in the 2014 death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, as well as 16 counts of aggravated battery, one for each of the shots he fired. I watched the announcement of the verdict via livestream. The jury forewoman read each battery count aloud separately:
”We the jury find the defendant, Jason Van Dyke, guilty of aggravated battery with a firearm—first shot. We the jury find the defendant, Jason Van Dyke, guilty of aggravated battery with a firearm—second shot,“ and so on.
It took Van Dyke less than 15 seconds to fire 16 shots. It took far longer for the forewoman to read the 16 counts. While nothing ends so neatly as we’d wish, this percussive speech act, mesmerizing and excruciating, felt like a memorial to that thin slice of time, recalled and suspended above us, or around us, wherever the words carried. I can’t say that it was important BECAUSE; there’s no way to know whether or how this landmark verdict will change anything about how the criminal justice system treats the lives and deaths of Black people at the hands of the police. It was important. Somewhere, those sound waves are pulsing still.
Least Important: Lena Dunham’s apologies.
Jacqui Shine is a writer and historian.
The future of cannabis is becoming more John Boehner and less Bob Marley.
Most Important: The commodification of cannabis is complete. Multibillion-dollar cannabis companies in Canada are flag-planting from Colombia to Lesotho for production and distribution across the globe. Companies like Altria (Philip Morris, Marlboro) and Constellation Brands (Corona, SVEDKA) are getting involved. It’s unclear whether cannabis-as-ingredient will go the direction of alcohol (cannabis beverages), tobacco (cannabis vapes), or pharma (cannabis medicines). Or all three. But one thing is for sure: The future of cannabis is becoming more John Boehner and less Bob Marley.
And the integrity of our elections is now in the hands of technology companies like Facebook. In September, Facebook announced the creation of a ”war room“ to combat election meddling by foreign bad actors. In the same month, Mark Zuckerberg wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post in which he said the company’s efforts are part of an ”arms race“ and that Facebook can help save democracy. Several Congress members seem to see safeguarding democracy as Facebook’s responsibility, too. The conflation of the private company’s technological power with government authority does not bode well for future elections.
Least Important: Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson.
As of November, California’s political leadership is now bluer, and more progressive, than it’s ever been.
Least Important: I moved to California after a decade of living in New York.
Most Important: What’s happening in California: The fifth largest economy in the world is in the middle of a severe housing crisis and rising inequality that’s exacerbated, in part, by the migration trend I’m part of. The middle class is shrinking and moving elsewhere, and unaffordability and environmental degradation are squeezing out opportunities for workers.
Devastating wildfires (and the mudslides that follow them) are getting worse every year, even impeding the strides made on ambitious climate goals. Though the state is now aiming to be carbon-zero by 2045 (!), no one knows how that would happen. Car culture is strong with this one, and transportation emissions are actually on the rise. Despite all the hullabaloo from state leaders, electric cars won’t save California, though maybe electric scooters will? (TBD on the under-construction high-speed rail line; anyway, Texas might build one first.) The state that has admirably reduced its prison population and this year legalized recreational marijuana is still struggling to make right its years of inequitable (read: racist) marijuana enforcement, especially in LA, the world’s largest illegal market. As of November, California’s political leadership is now bluer, and more progressive, than it’s ever been. But will that make any difference in solving all these big problems? Watch this state.
Most Important: We’ve learned we’re all going to die in a climate apocalypse.
Least Important: Twitter.
Larissa Pham is a writer in Brooklyn.
The difference is how quickly the general narrative continued to advance.
Most Important: It’s tough to put this into words as the year closes, but much of what happened served a dark cloud hanging over it—a numbing to things that would’ve normally caused many to take to their keyboards in outrage. It’s not that it didn’t still happen; it did for far too many things. The mass shootings; the horse race that was the coverage of the 2018 election cycle; the ongoing growth of distrust in long-establishing social networking platforms (despite continuing growth for some of their subsidiaries). The difference is how quickly the general narrative continued to advance as we found new things to feed the appetite of a 24-hour news cycle.
It’s leading me to wonder aloud what happens when a national news organization finally adopts a true “50 state-plus” strategy for covering the upcoming 2020 presidential election. It means listening to the people being served and recognizing their needs and desires as a result. It also means trusting those who work on the ground every day with the duty of leading the coverage and the lens with which it’s observed. “Place” is becoming increasingly important for the coming year as we stop asking for a general overview and demand better context and depth.
It’s an important challenge I hope something or someone is willing to tackle as our calendars change over.
Least Important: I’m going to go out on a limb and say Gritty’s arrival in my newly adopted city of Philadelphia this fall. Actually, I may have to take that back, as it was about the same time I arrived in town and I appreciate the fun he’s brought to many, both locally and nationally (including myself). Therefore, I’m going to reach all the way back to this summer’s LeBron James/J.R. Smith meme—the gift that continues to keep on giving (even as it’s now obvious it wasn’t the end of the world—only a temporary escape from it for some).
André Natta is the editorial director for the Lenfest Local Lab, a Philadelphia, Pa.-based news product innovation team within the Lenfest Institute for Journalism experimenting openly with ways to reinvent the daily user experience for local news. He was a 2018 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University.
Here’s a major point of dissatisfaction that unifies groups who are otherwise opposed!
Most Important: Who’s going to pay for the energy transition? It would be imprecise to call the march of the gilets jaunes the single most important event of 2018, but the demonstrators in France and beyond have highlighted the grossest contradictions in the economic and climate policies of some of the world’s wealthiest countries. The yellow vests marched against a variety of neoliberal hypocrisies (giving tax breaks to the rich while levying austerity on everyone else; paying for the energy transition by punishing workers rather than producers; etc.), and you had nationalists marching alongside leftists—two reasons why many centrist commentators in America appeared horrified by these demonstrations. Given galloping inequality and accelerating climate change, the sane person observing the gilets jaunes would say, Here’s a major point of dissatisfaction that unifies groups who are otherwise opposed—that looks like an opportunity to do politics! The choice now is whether we craft climate policy that helps the greatest number of people, or whether instead we require a suffering majority to sacrifice basic necessities in already modest lives while the rich continue to do what they’ve always done. (There are one or two American legislators who understand this.)
Least Important: The Yanni/Laurel thing. And maybe the demise of the Weekly Standard.
If you don’t yet know where you stand you’re probably with the fascists.
I started the year running. The night Black Panther arrived—yes, that happened this year, can you believe it?—I saw it at the Arclight in Los Angeles even though I live in New York, because an imperfect way to change how you feel is to change where you are. (It didn’t work, for the record.) But wow, was this year relentless. I don’t need to list all the things the current occupant of the White House did that made everything worse. You felt it too, didn’t you? I mean, how many days of your year were spent in self-care?
There was a palpable worsening, a turn toward the apocalyptic. In the film, this would be the part minutes before neighbors started informing on each other to a just-born gestapo, which would arrive fully formed as a patchwork of paramilitary units and municipal police forces. But I digress. And anyway, we made it; or at least some of us did. It’s important to remember those who didn’t and couldn’t, as a direct result of political choices made by a vocal, racist minority.
What was most important? The further degradation of America’s political life, as felt through our interpersonal relationships; the lines in the sand have been drawn, and if you don’t yet know where you stand you’re probably with the fascists.
I don’t know what was least exhausting. Everything felt exactly as urgent as everything else did, which is probably why I continue to feel existentially tired; movement as self-preservation is an exhausting thing. Whatever. Exeunt, pursued by year.
Keenan Teddy Smith
Keep your corporate Pride, keep your pink-washed anti-Blackness.
Most Important: The cultural moment Black media for Black people has had. Pose on FX, obviously, marks a moment where Black queer and trans creators can write their stories themselves and receive critical acclaim instead of needing the voyeuristic white influence of an NYU grad student or the isolation of being the Black token in a queer cast. We are beginning to solicit the necessary questions of audience and why “listening to both sides” makes depicted Black, queer, and/or trans experiences feel inauthentic to those they are allegedly representing. We are beginning to accept that some media need not be made for everyone and yet still urgently needs to be made.
Least Important: White, cisgender homosexulity. Keep your corporate Pride, keep your pink-washed anti-Blackness.
2018 wasn’t only a continuation of 2016 and 2017, but also an escalation.
Most important: 2018 felt less like a year and more like a fraction of an era. Time continued to ooze forward. Events continued to unfold so quickly you could barely grasp what any of it meant. Violence continued to intensify. The news continued to break and break and break. Everybody continued yelling at each other. 2018 wasn’t only a continuation of 2016 and 2017, but also an escalation.
Least important: The Discourse, probably.
Climate change is no longer a problem for the future but a defining feature in our present.
Most Important: Sometime toward the end of this blazingly hot summer when a good portion of the West Coast was on fire, the New York Times ran this headline above the fold on the front page: “The Year Global Warming Made Its Menace a Reality.”
While I would argue that for those living on the front lines of higher tides, stronger storms, longer droughts, and an endless string of other record-breaking weather events, climate change has been real for quite some time already, I think this headline signals a pretty significant shift in climate change discourse. Climate change is no longer a problem for the future but a defining feature in our present. We are also starting to see stories that clarify the ways in which climate change and environmental injustice overlap, further deepening the distances between those communities that will receive institutional support to weather the storms to come and those that will not. Along with our growing awareness around how structural inequality plays into climate-exacerbated vulnerability, broad climate coalitions are coming to the fore from Flood Forum USA to the Sunrise Movement and the push for a Green New Deal. May this be the biggest news of 2019.
Least Important: I am a little bit Antarctic-obsessed right now so my least important story comes from the deep, deep south. Remember the rectangular iceberg that broke off from the Antarctica? I mean, the grounding line of Thwaites Glacier is withdrawing destabilizing the entirety of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (which could contribute as much as 15 feet to global sea levels) and yet instead of talking about this we obsess about the geometry of a “photogenic” iceberg.
The sound of her testimony felt bigger than the moment.
Most Important: This year Christine Blasey Ford testified openly on a hidden secret, that women are both systematically mistreated and expected to hide their requisite traumas for the good of all. Whatever the outcome and whatever the messed-up reasons it took her to be the one who actually (sort of) got heard, the sound of her testimony felt bigger than the moment.
Least Important: Both important and not: Crazy Rich Asians was historically momentous—its revolution is written in the faces of its stars. But the actual movie was not only tedious but questionable in the matter of the value system and racial hierarchies it upholds, not befitting of the momentousness of its all-Asian cast imo!
Mallika Rao is a writer covering identity, culture, art, and dislocation.
This year’s event was distinctively un-cozy.
Most Important: Newly elected members of Congress were paid to visit Harvard for a traditional ”orientation“ led by lobbyists and business leaders in December: “Congresspersoning 101,” as it were. But this year’s event was distinctively un-cozy. Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez demanded to know why no labor leaders had been invited, for example, among several exhilaratingly feather-ruffling incidents.
Not Even Important: The volatility of cryptocurrency prices is forever heralding the demise of public blockchains. But speculative activity has nothing whatsoever to do with the lasting value of this technology. Like the first internet, blockchain will take a long time to reach widespread adoption, but only real digital totalitarianism will shut it down.
The futures depicted in science fiction are perhaps only a step away from being realized.
Most Important: A Chinese scientist claims to have made the first genetically edited babies.
He Jiankui’s claim, beset by questions and doubts from the moment it was made, led to an initial burst of nationalistic celebration in the state media before being ignominiously denounced as “the darkest stain upon the history of human scientific exploration” in a protest letter signed by 122 Chinese scientists. It became the topic of debate among the intelligentsia and the common public alike: the potential benefits and dangers of genetic editing, the gaps in the country’s review mechanism for scientific experiments, the ethical challenges of technological revolution, and the commercial and academic backdrop of He’s opportunistic behavior.
Though the experiment won’t usher in the dystopia of Brave New World, it is a warning for many that the futures depicted in science fiction are perhaps only a step away from being realized in our daily lives. Rather than fear and anxiety, it’s wiser to be prepared for the future, both in our emotions and our knowledge.
Least Important: All the rumors and news around the disappearance of the famous Chinese actress Fan Bingbing.
Fan had roles in X-Men and Iron Man as well as branding deals with Louis Vuitton and Mont Blanc. Starting on June 2 and for a hundred days thereafter, she disappeared from public view. The media breathlessly reported on her unexplained absence, and rumors swirled of a government investigation. In the end, the authorities accused her of dodging taxes and fined her nearly $70 million in October. Fan came back and publicly apologized. She’s not the first one, and she definitely will not be the last one.
I experienced firsthand so-called woke environmentalists dismissing my concerns.
Most Important: Plastic straw bans across cities in the United States. When Starbucks announced this summer the elimination of plastic straws in its stores by 2020, it was lauded as a great example of corporate social responsibility. Cities across the country began to pass ordinances and banning plastic straws such as Seattle, San Francisco, and Portland, with many other cities with proposed legislation in 2019. These changes were spurred by campaigns that framed plastic straws as killers of sea turtles and created a false binary of good and bad consumers. This erased disabled people who need plastic products for their everyday activities such as drinking and eating. On social media, I saw a lot of disabled and chronically ill people share their stories on why plastic straws are a form of accessibility and how they will be adversely impacted by these bans.
I use plastic straws when I’m out at a cafe or restaurant and I use plastic tubing for the ventilator I use to breathe. I experienced firsthand so-called woke environmentalists dismissing my concerns and presuming that our needs and critiques were less important than the goal of zero waste. This year disabled people spoke out and wrote op-eds and essays about the intersections of environmentalism and the ableism. This issue highlighted the exclusion of disabled people in all kinds of campaigns, activism, and policymaking and it was a thrill to see the disability community advocate strongly on these issues and engage in advocacy at the local level and in the media.
Least Important: Plastic straw bans across cities the United States. I didn’t expect to spend so much time participating in the Great Straw Ban Debate of 2018 but it was an opportunity to share my story and contribute to the public conversation that initially completely overlooked communities most impacted by the bans. As states and cities continue to pass straw bans, I am continually flummoxed by these bills that address a small percentage of plastic pollution globally. These bans have an appeal to the public because most see them as wasteful and frivolous products they can do without. I care about the environment too and try to reduce my consumption, but legislation that doesn’t consider the needs of marginalized communities at the outset is trash.
The removal of net neutrality will be seen as a grave mistake.
Most Important: When we look back, 2018 will likely be seen as the year that the regulator finally caught up with the internet, for good and for bad. In the US this year, net neutrality went through the motions of a conservative administration and finally received the rollback that big telecom has been pushing for years. (Fun fact: Jessica Rosenworcel, probably the most level-headed commissioner the FCC has, is the sister of the drummer for the band Guster.) And in the European Union, the General Data Protection Regulation went into effect with eerie timing—as the name Cambridge Analytica entered the lexicon, showing that companies like Facebook and Google needed some kind of control on their data-siphoning conduct. In five years, we’ll probably look at GDPR as a landmark of internet policy, but the removal of net neutrality will be seen as a grave mistake.
As we close out this year, I worry that regulatory issues will start to directly impact how we communicate online. In the US, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) were the first successful attempts at rolling back the safe harbors that digital platforms have long enjoyed—and might have played a role in Tumblr’s sudden shift toward irrelevance. Next year could offer up another big regulatory surprise from the EU, as it threatens to put a YouTube-style copyright filter on every big platform. There’s still time in the latter case; if you’re in the EU, speak up.
These pieces of internet policy are knowingly obscure, just as prior policy attempts at digital regulation, like the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Communications Decency Act, were. But the problem is, the internet is more fundamental to our culture now than it was even five years ago. The regulators need to go after the platforms to make sure they’re playing fair and keeping users safe——but it can’t come at the cost of the average person, whose freedom to create makes the internet worth saving.
Least Important: The revelation that Jack Dorsey uses a smartphone to run two public companies, and doesn’t own a laptop? That’s up there, and I should know, as I run a site that purposely covers unimportant things. We get it, Jack—you’re immune to the kinds of digital addictions that your own services enable. You know who else probably doesn’t use a laptop? I won’t say his name out loud, but he’s probably watching Fox & Friends right now.
Here’s to a species with a lousy sense of long-term planning.
Most Important: While we’re squabbling over borderlines as if they’re something that we can fuck, coastlines are eroding into the boiling sea. Treaties and emissions targets have been hand-waved aside, so as a species we’re facing climate change by giving up drinking straws. Ruining bubble tea as well as the liveable climate at once: Here’s to a species with a lousy sense of long-term planning.
Least Important: Protracted displays of despair, like mine above. Every generation has seen down a threat of annihilation—nuclear war, Nazism, the vapors—and has managed to hold it together to shuffle on to the next disaster. The dumpster fire gifs are growing cold. Despair is unsexy and gets nothing done, and moratoriums on celebrations (or on fighting! We’ve gotta keep bickering or our blood will run cold) are just as short-sighted. We’re a species with an innate need for dancing, too.
I worry that the next generation won’t be able to find themselves like I did.
Most Important: FOSTA-SESTA and the death of the queer internet. As a transgender woman who grew up in a Mormon household in the 1990s, I needed the internet. It was a portal for self-discovery—a gateway to information that would have otherwise been inaccessible. (Like, before I got online, I was using the Dewey Decimal System to find obscure German sexology tomes in my school library.) Thanks to the ripple effects of restrictive legislation ostensibly aimed at ending sex trafficking—but actually targeted at online sex work—the queer internet that saved my life is dying. Tumblr is banning NSFW content—and taking a lot of LGBT content with it. Facebook has barred discussions of “sexual preference.” If it wasn’t clear before 2018, it is painfully obvious now: Sex workers and queer people are in this together. I worry that the next generation won’t be able to find themselves like I did.
Least Important: Anything Donald Trump said while standing next to a helicopter.
Our growing sense of nihilism could be harnessed into something politically beautiful.
Most Important: Paradoxically, I think our growing sense of nihilism could be harnessed into something politically beautiful. As we barrel toward the environmental “point of no return”; as our engagements with white “demographic anxiety” caused by multiculturalism-cum-white genocide and the so-called migrant “crisis” brings us face to face with fascist flirtations; as absolutists still vehemently defend doublespeak-y “free speech” and rarely the targets of violence-inciting words; as it seems like our worlds are collapsing into themselves like dying stars, perhaps we can find some semblance of hope in the collective acknowledgement that we’ve both so much and so little to lose. Perhaps we proactively mobilize in anticipation of some devastating soon-to-happen event (like Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation) rather than after it. Maybe we prefabricate a plan instead of scrambling to recover as we careen from one inevitable political, social, or environmental disaster to the next.
Without betraying my characteristic cynicism (or legitimizing accelerationism), maybe the accidental blessing of an honest and earnest evaluation of the crisis moment that was the entirety of 2018 is the clarity accompanying the urgent epiphany of needing to do something dramatically different. And we can.
Least Important Most Frustrating: Representation, dialogue, visibility, “equity and inclusion,” diversity, intersectionality, decolonization have been turned against the people and turned into bludgeons. To quote Jamie Tyberg paraphrasing someone else (I’m unsure who): “We can’t speak truth to power, we have to destroy power.”
Zoé Samudzi is a freelance writer, photographer, and doctoral student in sociology.
Our future as cyborgs is often portrayed through a dystopian lens.
Most Important: In November 2018, a team of researchers published a study documenting the first successful trial of paralyzed patients operating unmodified commercial computers (in this case, Android tablets) through a brain-computer interface. Essentially, an array of electrodes implanted in the motor cortex allow brain signals to be extracted and decoded so that the user can control a cursor on the screen to carry out basic computing tasks. With the aid of this technology, participants, who could not use these tablets unassisted before, chatted and wrote emails, played music, expressed themselves, researched topics of personal interest on the web, and described the experience of operating a tablet directly with their brains as “second nature” and “very intuitive.”
There is much to celebrate here about the potential to improve the lives of the paralyzed, but it’s also milestone in our species’s relentless march toward augmentation by integration with our technology. Our future as cyborgs is often portrayed through a dystopian lens, but results like these remind us of the wonders and beauty of that vision as well.
Least Important: The rollout of GDPR. We’ll see if I’m right in a few years.
Ken Liu is a lawyer and author of The Grace of Kings, translator of The Three-Body Problem and editor of Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation.
We should do what we thought mattered most not because we might die tomorrow, but because we might live.
Most Important: One night in early October a woman I had just met asked what my greatest fear was. This was an abrupt but not unwelcome shift to the conversation. I wanted to answer honestly, but would need a minute to think, I responded, as a way to buy some time. I spent a lot of 2018 telling my friends something that wasn’t morbid but not exactly life-affirming: We should do what we thought mattered most not because we might die tomorrow, but because we might live. For, like, a long time. I explained that to her and said in retrospect it seemed regular morbid. I was most afraid of climate change not because it would kill us, but because we would have to live through it. Also, I told her after we had a moment to reflect, this question feels like a trap. She agreed, and told me if I hadn’t said climate change she would have thought there was something seriously wrong with me.
Least Important: Calls for “civility,” whether in customer service or conversation, have to be one of the stupidest things from a very stupid year. Confusing social conditioning for intellectual discourse—the ability to make small talk offered as proof that any difference can be, if not overcome, than at least ignored—is neither compassionate nor clever. It just means you have manners and no scruples, that you are more concerned with etiquette than morality. It’s not done in good faith, and does not make for good journalism! Can you believe people get paid to write this stuff? I’ll tell Bari Weiss what’s wrong with her for free.
Haley Mlotek is a writer in New York.
SLOTUS’s book is pure Pence propaganda under the guise of a benevolent wallflower rabbit.
Most Important: Democrats took back the House.
Least Important: Second Lady Karen Pence, whose acronym is actually SLOTUS (let that sink in for a minute), and her daughter Charlotte Pence, released the children’s book, Marlon Bundo’s A Day in the Life of the Vice President. It follows their black-and-white pet rabbit, Marlon Bundo, as he follows ”Grandpa Mike Pence“ around the White House. SLOTUS’s book is pure Pence propaganda under the guise of a benevolent wallflower rabbit.
Rachel Vorona Cote
A white, heterosexual man of Kavanaugh’s privilege was baffled by the task of accounting for himself.
Most Important: Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States.
On Oct. 6 of this year, I headed to Capitol Hill to stand in protest as Brett Kavanaugh, a man accused by multiple women of sexual assault, was confirmed as a Supreme Court justice. I had no hope of a better outcome, and I was wild, nearly desperate, with fury over what I had feared was a foregone conclusion. Despite Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s elegant and brave testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee and despite Kavanaugh’s own blustering and unhinged display, the United States Congress appointed as its newest interpreter of the Constitution a flagrantly partisan man of distressingly volatile temperament with, according to significant evidence, a ghastly past of sexual abuse. I was struck by how a white, heterosexual man of Kavanaugh’s privilege was baffled by the task of accounting for himself, and by the prospect that he might not be handed what he regarded as his due. And I grieved for what his appointment meant: the likelihood of some acutely regressive Supreme Court decisions—and the bald fact that this country’s hatred of women is no less virulent than before. Most likely, as #MeToo has called comparatively few men to justice, that vitriol has been stoked anew.
There was nothing I could do on Oct. 6 besides stand before the Capitol and consider the lie of that mighty building’s grandiosity. But I stood there all the same. I demanded to bear witness.
Least Important: The New York Times op-ed “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.” Oh please.
Rachel Vorona Cote is a cultural critic living in Washington, DC. Her book, Too Much: How Victorian Restraints Still Bind Us Today, is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing.
Working people are fighting for their place in a world that’s been stolen from them.
Most Important: 2018 ends as it began: with a feeling. Distinct and pervasive. A rising. A boiling, beautiful, frothing, roaring sense that enough is enough. A wave of teachers’ strikes, led predominately by women, beginning with a wildcat in West Virginia and spreading—like spores—to Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona; an International Women’s Strike; McDonald’s workers fighting back against “rampant” sexual harassment; hotel workers picketing around the country; unionization pushes from adjunct professors and graduate student-workers, tech workers, service workers, Uber drivers, supermarket workers… Yellow vests bringing the sun to the streets. Working people are turning to each other, crawling from the crevasses of forgottenness, and fighting for their place in a world that’s been stolen from them.
Least Important: 2018 was—as is every year—the year of the economy. Ten years after the financial crash, every day has been a swarm of mystified praise and self-serving proclamations about an economy whose “booming” booms without us. Every day has been a harried race between pundits, politicians, and executives to ascribe fault or take credit for the misunderstood, erratic movements of this great, big nebulous thing that only makes money for a small class of people at the expense of the rest of us who are finding it harder and harder to get by. What good has that done for workers? How important has this “booming” been to us?… Also, Elon Musk is pointless.
I don’t believe even Adam Smith could say with a straight face that impending climate apocalypse is best staved off by the invisible hand.
Most Important: It isn’t terribly original but I think it’s worth stating all the same that the increasingly rapid destruction of the only planet in the universe where humans have ever to our knowledge managed to live—that that, yes, is probably cause for concern. I might even venture to say, speaking from the highly narrow (inter-planetarily-speaking) perspective of a lowly terrestrial, that it’s the most important story ever.
A new United Nations report found that just another half degree Celsius of warming could expose tens of millions worldwide to life-threatening floods, heatwaves, and food shortages. Domestically, impacts of climate change have already arrived. Tangier Island is sliding into the Chesapeake Bay, Louisianans are watching their communities succumb to ocean, Puerto Ricans have yet to recover from hurricanic devastation, and California is continually up in smoke.
Reports this month out of climate talks in Katowice, Poland, played up how corporations have stepped forward to fill the leadership void left by government—and the void is real, with respect to the US especially. But I don’t believe even Adam Smith could say with a straight face that impending climate apocalypse is best staved off by the invisible hand.
The momentous things society has accomplished, from ending slavery to women’s suffrage to defeating the Nazis, were made possible by ordinary people working together, and not just on the front lines.
As a journalist I tell myself my job is to describe problems but sometimes, and more often recently, it feels like not enough. I don’t want to be one of those bad self-help books that inevitably end in five bullet points for How You Can Fix Everything Now.
But I do think we owe it to ourselves and to one another to do things we can. And also, crucially, when the time comes, to vote.
Least Important: The least important thing isn’t worth mentioning, of course. Have we learned nothing from Trump’s rise? Oh alligator fur and horse feathers! Look, I’ve mentioned it again.
Companies are not your friend.
It seems fitting that 2018 opened with the death of the Awl and is now winding down with the closing of Rookie. A lot more happened in between: Lenny Letterended, legacy publications were stripped and sold for parts, digital upstarts flush with VC funding pivoted and missed and ate each other and restructured, AKA layoffs, baby!!!
The consolidation of digital media is not, by most measures, the most important event of 2018—consider climate change, or men continuing to get away with bad things—and may even be considered the least important concern ever by certain swathes of the population. But for me or perhaps you or some other navel-gazing nerds who are in the business of news, it’s impossible to stop thinking about amid headlines and push alerts—wondering which publication will falter tomorrow, how many freelancers are met with lower rates, who are the ones who can afford to stay and who are driven out?
If 2018 has crystallized the volatility of this industry, it has also crystallized the knowledge that companies are not your friend, and that collective bargaining is one of the few rocks standing between exploitation and fair treatment. Faced with an industry that is somehow simultaneously shrinking and scaling, propped up by precarious investor funding, the whims of benevolent billionaires, and moneyed readers who could vanish with the next recession, more and more journalists are all in on unions, seeking through strength in numbers to address historical problems like job insecurity, wage gaps, and lack of diversity. In 2018, the staffs of such publications as the New Yorker, Slate, Fast Company, and New York voted to unionize, following the likes of Gawker, VICE, HuffPost, Vox Media, and more. They will not be the last newsrooms to do so—maybe this promise, more than the overwhelming sense of “lol we’re fucked,” is the most important of 2018.
Jenny G. Zhang is a writer and editor in New York. Her day job is growing audiences and getting that sweet, sweet traffic for Slate; on nights and weekends, she continues dicking around on the internet, forever.
I don’t know if that should make me feel better or worse.
I’m pretty sure the most important thing to happen this year was something I didn’t even hear about—some innovation that resulted in a two-percent improvement in the yields for rice, or the addition (or removal) of some chemical that nobody knew was harmful from some product that billions of people use every day.
The least important things to happen include all of my problems and everything I worried about. I don’t know if that should make me feel better or worse.