It’s that time of the year, when things quiet down, for a reflection of the year that was 2020. It is truly a unique and memorable year in many ways one for the history books. Generations from now, books (and documentaries) will be produced to try and figure this year out. Academicians and storytellers will try to dissect this year to distill its lessons and meanings for the future of humanity.
2020 by its outward symbols seemed promising. The truly arbitrary labeling of two-thousand-and-twentieth orbit of our earth around the sun heralded much promise. It coincided with what we labelled as “perfect vision”. Scanning old articles from news portals, the following were snippets of things to look forward to at the end of 2019:-
- The year 2020 marks the 75th Anniversary of the formation of the United Nations, a global body of nations that tries to foster global cooperation and assistance. Ironically, it was set up after World War II which took place after, you guessed it, World War I.
- At the end of World War I, the world (which consisted of the developed Western nations of United States, Britain, France and Italy then) promised not to go to war again via The Treaty of Versailles. This treaty went effective on 10 January 1920, a hundred years ago.
- We were more successful in preventing global wars since World War II. Part of the reason could be because every four years, the world got together to try and put aside our differences by competing in sports rather than the battlefield. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics was a much-needed release for testosterone-pumped nation to send their athletes, rather than soldiers, to compete for national pride.
- Nations such as ours had also set a target to be a developed nation by 2020. We were on the cusps of the second year of a new government, led by the slow crawl of reforms to the challenging pragmatisms of ruling a diverse country that wasn’t uniformly in agreement of the best way forward. However, it was still a change and most liberals who weren’t at each other’s throats were still grateful that they had a chance to govern.
- Meanwhile, the United States is slated to have its presidential election in 2020. Most pundits determined that it would be an easy election for Donald Trump to win due to the strong economic numbers of the US and the “tough” stance that he had shown to the rest of the world. Boris Johnson is also working out his Brexit and most pundits had no idea how it would go.
- On the cultural front, the entertainment industrial complex was hyping the releases of tentpole feature film franchises while streaming services were hyping out their latest originals. 2020 also promised new books by best-selling authors, albums by best-selling artistes and video games by best-selling gaming studios all slated to come out in a clockwork manner thanks to savvy marketeers who had focus-grouped these releases way ahead of time.
- And finally, tech companies had lined up their latest gleaming gadgets which they had developed in secret labs over the past years. We know that our phones, tablets and computers are getting faster and smarter in 2020. However, the fun is in the reveal where snazzy keynotes with animated presentations are utilized for maximum hyped impact.
In the end, like H. G. Well’s War of the Worlds, all of the mighty machinations of humankind’s ambitions (and some say greed) for the year fell victim to a tiny novel pathogen called SARS-CoV-2.
The best laid plans laid waste when the whole world went into a lock down and human activities ground to a halt in the first half of this year and later to a slow uneven trod in the later part of the year. Waves of infections have kept some countries closed longer (and more times) than others. As canals cleared up, planes stopped flying, people stopped commuting, the hospitals are filling up with the sick and the infirmed.
Our interconnected global economy faced pressure from both supply and demand ends. Millions of workers globally lost their jobs while companies faced pro-longed slowdown. Financial institutions were forced to consider debt moratoriums. Government responded again and again to pump in additional liquidity to stop everything from melting down.
Governments also had to contend with their restless population who were growing fed-up with encroachments to personal liberties. Only China managed to carry out a draconian lockdown with relatively little resistance. Democracies around the world, though largely compliant, had pockets of conspiracy theorists who either decried the whole thing as a fraud or insisted that things were not as bad as it was made out to be.
These segments of the population had a disproportion volume thanks to social media amplification spread their misinformation wide. We have people who turned to God before they were turned away from congregating in their churches or temples or mosques. Others denied science but embraced unproven cures like a decades old Malaria medicine*. Some blamed foreign agents for creating the virus in a lab but neglect to account of its deadly global reach which had killed populations around the world.
But among the doom and gloom, there were silver linings.
Some segments of the professional work force adapted to working from home. Tech companies responded by accelerating the tools to facilitate collaboration by bring people virtually together. Companies adapted by moving parts of their business to the Internet. Some manufacturers saw a once-in-a-lifetime windfall, profiting from producing PPEs and drugs to fight the pandemic.
Old ways were supplanted with new ways of doing things. Feature films went straight to streaming. Launches and seminars welcomed anyone around the world with a video-conferencing software. Mass endurance sporting events became more participatory, opened to anyone with a GPS smart watch, treadmill or a cycling trainer.
Nothing brought out the stark realities of our digital divide more than this pandemic. Countries where less digital disparity exists between societies tend to do better. As we are now close to the general availability of a vaccine, we must take heed of the lessons that we should learn from this horrible year.
We have strayed from knowledge based on concrete evidence-based science to opinions. We haven’t planned well for the least resourced parts of our population. We pay credence to our needs ahead of the needs of society at larger, even though those personal choices we make will bite us back later.
But the biggest lesson of all, in my humble opinion, is that we seem to have taken for granted the transitory nature of the stability and predictability of life that we have come to rely upon. This sudden jolt of the unknown has pushed us to a place that we had never imagined. And that place is filled with the vicissitudes of life that we had somehow forgotten.
* Trivia: Hydroxychloroquine is a synthetic derivative of quinine which is still used today as the “T” in a nice ice-cold glass of Gin-and-Tonic. The drink was first touted as a cure by the British colonial population against Malaria.