If you are anything like me, then lockdown over the vac will have involved a lot of wallowing in social media. Something about being at home and unable to see anyone outside your family has made me self-medicate with a cocktail of Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp. Even though no one is doing anything—or at least not posting blurry recordings of concerts and nightclubs to their stories—I still obsessively check that this is the case. It is the same sense of relief I gain from finding out that I am not the only one that handed my essay in late, even if mine was 2 days overdue and theirs was 2 hours.
One thing that I have observed, however, slurping my social media concoction and scrolling endlessly through Instagram Reels, is a desire to consign 2020 to the dustbin of history. Many want a Men in Black-style mind wipe that will erase the past year from our collective memory, only to be recalled 50 years down the line when a funky new virus dredges up the memories from the bottom of the dustbin. This, I think, is a mistake.
To avoid sounding like a politician with their learned sentimentality, I will not tell you that we must remember history to learn from its mistakes. That’s excessive. It goes without saying that 2020 will be studied. You could write an article in itself on the unprecedented events that happened in the year (in fact, it would probably be a more interesting article than this one). And 2020 will be studied from every angle you can possibly imagine; I wouldn’t be surprised if 20 years down the line they study the psychology of making bread in lockdown. But what I want is for 2020 not to be erased from our common consciousness, to be cancelled, to become The Year That Must Not Be Named.
I fully understand the desire for collective amnesia. Throughout my life, there have been many painful moments that I have tried to persuade my friends did not happen, most recently the first night of Fresher’s when I gained an embarrassing sobriquet. I digress. Indeed, the New Year at the best of times encourages a fresh start—new year, new me, etc. But when last year in particular is forgotten, we also forget what it is like to be deprived of things. How sweet will parties and nightclubs be if we keep in mind the memory of lockdowns and Chris Whitty?
Imagine now that we erase all the events of the year. Remember when murder hornets arrived in the United States? No? Well, clearly the hive mind wipe has already begun. Imagine that we forgot, after such a long and arduous build-up, the departure of a balding narcissist from a position he did not deserve in the first place. No not Trump, not Cummings, but Prince Harry. Imagine how lacking our lives would be without this.
It already seems inconceivable to think that these happened last year. Do you remember something about the Australian wild fires, the Trump impeachment, the near onset of World War 3? I know, seems like a lifetime ago. And what about the seismic shift in mindset that BLM created—who could forget that? A collective memory reset would simply turn us into one of those celebrities whose #blackouttuesday post was lost amongst a sea of selfies. These are things that should not merely be preserved in one of the more obscure rounds of the 2050 University Challenge.
2020 illuminated a number of truths about our society, some more tasteful than others. It showed the receptiveness of the British public to slogans, with Bo Jo pumping new rallying cries out like they’re his illegitimate children. In a way it also showed our consideration for other people (although I would like to emphasise that the number of dirty looks I get from old people has increased by at least 15%). It showed how stiff our upper lip truly is.
Indeed, I could complain with equal zeal about distasteful aspects of society that the pandemic has brought to people’s attention. Yet this would detract from my point. Shame and embarrassment encourage us to stick our fingers in our ears and hum the tune to WAP. An honest appraisal is needed of 2020.
Nor would this be such a difficult task. 2020 was a remarkably universal experience for people across the globe. On every continent people have been forced to stay inside (except for Antarctica, how I envy thee). Socialist and socialite alike have gone into lockdown. No one can go out and everyone stays in on a Friday night, not just me anymore. People have spent more time and have become better acquainted with themselves (which is unlucky for some more than others). Lots have taken up new hobbies. I for one have taken up knitting.
So, I don’t think 2020 should be forgotten but that we should remember it for the good and the bad. Although it is a year we would like to erase, and one that gives us more cause than most to, I beg you to keep it as close as a frenemy, despising it enough to continue talking about it.