I wince whenever I see a negative news item (the death of a celebrity, a natural disaster, etc.) framed as the result of “2020 doing it again!” I dislike anthropomorphizing years. “2020” is not a conscious entity; it’s a label, an abstraction. Disasters happen, people die — sometimes more than others. It’s not the year’s fault. Blaming 2020 for “bad” outcomes invites magical thinking about the prospects for 2021. Things won’t get immediately better at 12:00 am on January 1.
But we are pattern-matching animals, and the span of time we label 2020 has been particularly tough. Many people have died worldwide, many more have become ill, and even more have lost their livelihoods. So much suffering! And in the U.S., this year has also brought to the fore deep social inequities, which have been aggravated by appalling leadership failures.
Still, as I look back over the past year, I consider myself lucky. My family is healthy. We haven’t been treated unfairly (or even unkindly!) by anyone. I’ve been teaching and working continuously during the pandemic. (Even though teaching has been harder and work has been less stable.) And although we can’t visit with our loved ones for the holidays, we have a roof over our heads and food on the table. We are privileged.
At the risk of sounding unduly optimistic, I see lots of promise in the year ahead. New vaccines, developed and approved at an unprecedented pace, harken the beginning of the end of the pandemic. In the U.S., a new administration should start work in January. Amazing breakthroughs such as GPT-3, protein folding prediction software, and new battery technologies promise better health, smarter services, and more ecologically sound systems.
Design plays a key role in making all of these things better — and in making them better serve our individual and social needs. There’s so much to be done. I’m lucky to work in this field and grateful to be able to share it with you. Thank you for giving me your attention over the past year. I wish you and yours a happy and healthy holiday season. May 2021 be a better year.