When the year was ending last year, it seemed like there was one prevailing opinion about how to explain 2015.
2015, the year everyone was offended by everything. Certainly in America. However, there weren’t a lot of things to point to and say they were really all that bad, and the general thought was that clearly things had just gotten out of hand and we all needed to calm down, have a more open mind, be less offended, and everything was going to be fine.
Somewhere early on in 2016 this became my meme of the year. I said it many times when people probably didn’t realize what I was referencing. And it’s probably not the only meme to consider for describing the year. Early on in the year, the continual insult on the injury of 2016 began as beloved celebrities – many fairly young and shocking – began to pass away. So I did keep seeing good memes based around this as well:
To really explain 2016, though, I think it’s important to remember that 2015 was the year everyone got offended at everything. Right, left, and center, whatever shade of reason, other people and their thoughts or actions offended people. And so as we got into an increasingly heated American presidential race – on both sides and between the two sides – what ended up happening was that people ended up in echo chambers.
The vague algorithms of the Internet conspired with seemingly innocuous decisions to unfollow or like various things around social media and the web led to this effect, where we kept hearing thoughts that agreed with our point of view, and not hearing thoughts that didn’t.
I mean, it did something to solve the offense problem, kind of sort of. The people around us in our echo chambers were also offended by the same things as us – many of these things ending up being fake or misleading news, designed to get an emotional reaction from us. So there was no one to call us on it. There was no reality check. Whenever there was a reality check, we’d just close it off, hope for things to go differently or better.
Thus, this is fine. The burning building that was civil discourse and bipartisanship and whatever other terms we want to say… we just hoped that whatever happened in November solved it. However, things had gotten so partisan, the echo chambers so severe, that I think whatever ended up happening was not going to end up going well afterwards.
I’ve been engaging in the world and social media increasingly in memes since the election, and have started curating a collection on my phone for easy use. As such, here’s where I feel like many people got to in the late part of 2016:
It was a call to action, things have shifted, things have changed. Had the election gone otherwise, I think I might still be saying this same thing. The world is changed, is different, in more ways than just American politics or America at all. Brexit is huge. Super Powers are rumbling and wanting to reassert the idea of “Super Powers” back into the world. Hacking is back in the news, and spycraft.
Things have changed, and one of the best and most American responses I’ve seen so far has been the large number of people taking to the phones and calling their Representatives. Almost like that’s how a representative democracy – like the United States – is supposed to function. There’s been a reawakening of this civic spirit. Of a need for action, and not just Slacktivism and social commentary and observation. For people to do more than just be offended.
Things have changed in terms of information literacy, a term we use in the library world. We’ve finally hit that point that was predicted, where we would become too complacent about the information being fed to us by computer algorithms. Luckily, we hit this point before traditional journalism and news was completely dead, and I think they have been reinvigorated by this year. Hopefully this will be a renaissance for the press, and they will more importantly find the 21st century business practices to let them remain relevant moving forward. We should be getting more news from, well, the news, than we do from memes.
Finally, I’ve heard a call for, as Neil Gaiman might put it, “make good art.” As such, it definitely feels like there is still a place amidst all of this for Comparative Geeks. We’ll still try to talk about politics in an abstract way – like through science fiction. We’ll still talk about information literacy and net neutrality and these sorts of important modern problems. And we’ll still be talking about that art being made, those things to watch and things to play and things to read. So get out of here, 2016. I’m ready for 2017.
(This is fine.)