Summing up the end of a decade is a curious thing to do. While neat timings are useful and allow for lists – and who doesn’t like a good list?! – they’re frequently of little consequence. Events don’t simply begin and end at the dawn and death of a decade. That arbitrary top and tail, usually accompanied by a look forward helps, mostly, journalists get loads of content ready at a curious time of the year.
So here goes a summation of the decade and a look at the months ahead.
The last 10 years have been the era of social media. It existed before but the explosion of it changed the world. The Arab Spring, though ultimately unsuccessful, spread across Tunisia, Egypt, Iran and the Middle East, thanks to the ability Twitter gave people to mobilise. Social media was a communication agent for positive change. However, once the jar is opened you can’t control which way the smoke moves. And so social media, all of it, became increasingly a place to husband people who thought the same way, and for those people to claim others who didn’t think that way were lying. That they were spreading fake news.
Openness to opposing points of view, an ability that has been choked as we’ve moved to our own echo chambers, is one we must return to
As everything was digital, everything left a trace and those traces became valuable. And so it was that over the last number of years we became targets for those who wanted us to behave in particular ways, or for those who wanted us to believe particular things that weren’t true. The rise in populism and a particular sort of anger at the status quo and anger at the other was lifted and amplified by the global bellows of social media.
In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.
One other thing social media became was a frontline battlezone in the culture wars. It was good that people who had been on the margins before – whether because of race or gender or sexuality or politics – suddenly had a place to show why they should be respected and listened to. However, the flip side was that an opposing view, or even a flippant or casual comment, was seized upon and condemned. There was no openness to change or understanding. Either agree totally with the new voices, or be thrown to the wolves. This is a very bad piece of unintended consequence.
The ONLY way to move ahead in the coming months is to be open to hear, to properly hear and care for, the view that opposes your own.
Roaring and guldering at each other, whether on the street or on social media platforms, will be a zero-sum game.
It starts at the top. Boris Johnson’s government cannot simply ignore the will of many millions who do not wish for a hard Brexit. He needs to be open and conciliatory, to pack away the language of surrender and freedom. This extends to the Scottish question. There is a clear majority in Scotland who do not want to be ruled by a Tory Westminster government. Whether they want to be completely and immediately independent is moot. However, there has to be an openness to discuss this massive question.
Across the Irish Sea, as Brexit brings tough situations around the border and tariffs, there will be an upsurge in talk about a united Ireland. But that can only work if Unionists in Northern Ireland feel included. It will not be enough to state that it’s majority will. The other side must be respected.
Openness to opposing points of view, an ability that has been choked as we’ve moved to our own echo chambers, is one we must return to.
That’s the way to look up and forward into 2020. If we can, in 10 years, when we do our end-of-the-decade round-up, we’ll be in a much better place.
Happy New Year, from everybody at The Big Issue.
Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue