I generally try to lean into the positive on this blog, because the world is just filled with too much negativity. However, as much as people tend to lean towards and dwell on negative things, we can’t all be positive all the time. Negativity does happen. It does not need to be ignored. We just need to balance out our thoughts by expressing gratitude and appreciation more and maybe reducing the amount of unnecessary negative content we consume.
It is in this vein that I must acknowledge that 2022 is the first time in nearly two decades I am ending the year with a more hopeful view of humanity and our future. So far this century, it has honestly felt like things were getting worse. People feel more divided, isolated and in worse physical, financial and mental health than they were at the turn of the century. 2008, with the financial crisis and smart phones and social media gaining momentum, seems like the pivotal year. I’ve even taken to labelling the period of time since then as the “Little Dark Age.”
Thinking back, two events in particular gave me a preview of the darkness that was to come. First, I saw a whole city collectively “lose their shit” over the results of an election.
In 2004 I was living in Madison, Wisconsin, a city that is quite beautiful and culturally rich. However, at that time, it felt like they were just a little ahead of the curve in becoming obsessed with partisan politics and being outright mean to anyone who even shows an indication that they are not in 100% agreement on issues that largely split the country 50/50.
Then, my friends started getting smart phones. Normally, it is not a bad thing when someone obtains a new product. However, I began to see more and more people become so obsessed with this device that they would ignore the people that are actually in front of them, just staring at the thing the entire time. I just knew this could not be good for humanity.
The world got darker. But now, I see a coming better era. Three moments from 2022 captivate this sentiment.
1. When I met up with my friend who is a professor
My friend Kevin is a professor at Valparaiso University, where I went to college.
I met up with him at the start of the month. We went out for deep dish pizza and went to the Christkindlmarket, because, well, Chicago in December.
I had honestly not seen him since before the pandemic and I asked him about student’s cell phone use. What he said indicated a marked improvement. He talked about how back in 2016, students were constantly being distracted by their phones, doing things like scrolling through social media. He indicated to me that now it seems like the majority of students’ phone use in class seems to be class related. Maybe they’re looking up an equation or a historical figure to enhance what the discussion in front of them is. This feels like a new generation of people is finding a far more productive way to use this technology that recently disrupted our lives.
2. Random song lyrics
These particular song lyrics hit me hard, in a good way, in 2022. They both represent people looking inward as opposed to outward. They represent a switch from the finger pointing and accusations that were quite common during the pandemic to self-reflection and trying to be a better person. This represents a trend that has the potential to be both less divisive and also more empowering. Focusing on what we, as individuals and communities, can do offers far more hope than dwelling on external factors and obsessing over how to either change or exact revenge on certain groups of people.
This kind of echoes what I have been seeing elsewhere in culture, including movies and T.V. shows. Without getting into detail, It feels like from roughly 2017 through 2020 most of pop culture had an us vs. them theme. Many songs, movies and shows seemed to be strongly advocating that everyone adapt perspectives that are in line with what people in Hollywood think (or, just taking them as ground truth despite them being up for debate generally). This year, I saw Top Gun Maverick, Elvis and Spirited, the new Christmas movie. These films, along with some other things I watched this year seem more themed around how we can improve while still being true to who we are. Thus, combining wanting to be better to those around us with acceptance of what makes all of us unique.
3. People I encountered throughout the year
As the year went by, it felt like I was encountering more and more people with a different focus. It started when the Commons on Champa, Denver’s entrepreneurial hub, reopened the last day of May.
This lead to meeting entrepreneurs from all over Latin America, associated with the Young Leaders in the Americas Initiative. What a wonderful, appreciative group of people. I’ve been told multiple times that people from poorer countries are often better at appreciating what they have as opposed to focusing on getting the next thing.
Then, on top of Mount Antero in August, I encountered some of the friendliest people I’d ever met.
They were friends from California and Arizona on a road trip together. They offered me a ride when my dog got blisters on her paws. They picked up litter they saw on the trail. Everything they talked about was positive, things like how amazing the music they were listening to is and astonishment at the scenery on the hike.
For much of the second half of the year I heard countless people describe things like their desire to get away from a lot of the stress and negativity of recent years and reconnect with themselves, their families, communities and nature. I had many people tell me about what they are doing to reduce their screen time, such as placing time limits or deleting apps and adapting new habits.
This culminated with my experiences in Cancun and Chicago in late November/ Early December. Between that and the messages I got from strangers at the Awake Festival and StartupWeek, I felt a level of appreciation I had not felt in years. Sometimes it feels like I opened a portal to accept certain influences in life. Or maybe, the world is finally moving on from the fear based responses we had to the events of 2012 through 2020 and we are finally doing the work that needs to be done to create a better future.
I coined the phrase “Little Dark Age” based on the term “Little Ice Age”, used to describe a cooler period on the planet from roughly 1300 -1850. The “Little Ice Age” reached its apex in 1816, when volcanic eruptions and a relative minima in solar activity lead to what is coined as “The Year Without a Summer.” However, by 1900, we were clearly out of the “Little Ice Age” (and on the path to better food security). My hope is that 2020, the year that everyone was as isolated as ever and yelling at each other over their responses to the pandemic and racial unrest was that moment for this “Little Dark Age”, and that now, we are on our way out, to a better (although not perfect) 2023.