27 March 2021

The Guardian: “The age of perpetual crisis: how the 2010s disrupted everything but resolved nothing”

Perhaps the human silhouette that most embodies the 2010s is that of the thousands of cyclists working for the food delivery service Deliveroo, which was founded in London in 2013 and now operates in dozens of cities across Europe and beyond. The huge insulated containers the riders carry on their backs, like uglier, unprotective snail shells, seem to say: Work is a burden you must accept, however much of your dignity it takes away.

Another way to cope with the 2010s has been to work obsessively on yourself. From the 1950s to the 1990s, being young in the west was often associated with lounging around, or rebelling, or living for the moment. But in the 2010s being young often means relentlessly working and studying, polishing your public persona, and keeping fit. The massively popular Hunger Games novels and films, about young people being forced to compete to the death with each other by a cruel, middle-aged elite, came out between 2008 and 2015. Intended as dystopian science fiction, they quickly began to seem like more like satire, or even social realism.

The worse things get, writes the American essayist Jia Tolentino, the more a person is compelled to optimise [themselves]. This can be presentational: a carefully maintained Instagram feed (the app was released in 2010). Or it can be physical. Yoga, marathons, triathlons – it’s not hard to see their renewed popularity over the last decade as an effort by people, conscious or otherwise, to hone themselves for a tougher world.

Andy Beckett

Ironically, this article was published around the date when the novel coronavirus was first identified in China, a virus that quickly went on to spread around the world and cause the most significant disruption in decades. I am reasonably sure that, in another decade or two, what we perceived as turmoil and disruption in the 2010s will become a fond memory of simpler and happier times. Despite vaccination efforts, the current pandemic will likely continue for at least a year globally, and there is no shortage of other possible pathogens to emerge if proper prevention measures are not implemented. As for climate change, I sometimes think we have barely started taking measures to minimize the damages, and I am increasingly pessimistic that the world can act together to reduce warming.

Activists dressed as characters from The Handmaid’s Tale
Activists dressed as characters from The Handmaid’s Tale in the Texas Capitol Rotunda in May 2017. Photograph: Eric Gay/AP

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