On 2016

“It was a bad year.”

This is the nicest way to express what many people seem to be saying about the past twelve months. Why, though? Because Donald Trump killed David Bowie? Given the political trajectory the year would take, the man who sang “Loving the Alien” and “I’m Afraid of Americans” needed to be silenced early. I think the reason for most people’s 2016 antipathy runs a little deeper.

Facebook noticed something earlier this year which I think helps us understand our current cultural moment: they noticed that people were sharing more content than ever, but the content wasn’t their own. (note to Bloomberg, I would happily have linked to your original version of this story, but it has an autoplaying ad. Please stop urinating in the internet swimming pool).

In years past, users shared their status (words about how they were doing) and their photos (evidence of how they were doing). Lately, users mostly share links to other content – badly filmed youtube clips of a stranger’s kids not actually doing anything interesting, quotes wrongly attributed to Stephen Fry, etc. Most commentary at the time explained that this was due to privacy concerns – the wider our virtual circles, the less we want to share with everyone inside them. I think this hints at the right idea, but it’s much more basic: our lives are complicated, and we don’t know how to express that, so we opt for cat videos.

“How are you?” is a stupid question to ask under most circumstances. That’s not a novel observation, but I think it gets at the heart of hashtag expletive 2016. When asked to take stock of the past year, we generally talk positively for the same reasons we ungrammatically say “I’m good” when asked how we’re doing – the actual answer is tricky, and if we have to pick one of the two binary options, we’ll opt for the one with fewer follow up questions. In 2016, the tide turned, and the usual response to “this year sucked” is a reassuring nod followed by “I know.”

Collectively, we’re all understandably jumping on the opportunity to have feelings affirmed which are usually left unexpressed. But does that mean it was a bad year, really? Or are we all so lacking in relationships deep enough and safe enough to process the good and the bad honestly, that we run toward generalizations which let us validate our more painful experiences? 2017 will be terrible and wonderful, full of celebration and sorrow. Here’s to knowing and being known by those with whom we can share all of it