Thanks and Happy Holidays: That was 2021

This is end-of-year post #14 (all prior ones here).

What happened in 2021?

I went into 2021 still feeling pretty raw from the previous year, but once it got going the year really opened up. After clearing my slate of just about any commitment I could, I quickly felt better, more free. It meant dropping lots of stuff I enjoy — my role at ThingsCon, jury memberships, side projects and lots more — but it was entirely necessary and the right decision. Between that, getting vaccinated, and daycare for our little one opening back up things started to flow again, and have been all year.

M and I still worked from home most of the year, were careful about in-person meetings, spent our days in Zoom — like everyone in our circles, what else is new? Both of us also started new professional chapters. In my case, I started working with the lovely folks over at Stiftung Mercator and the European AI Fund, and it’s been a blast. Focus my time on supporting and strengthening digital civil society full-time while working with people I respect and appreciate? I’m down with that.

The theme for 2021

Last year I wrote:

But the theme, overall, if there was one, is this: a clean slate.

Once the proverbial slate was clean, I got to fill it back up with projects that match my current interests and needs.

So if I had to summarize the theme that emerged during 2021, I’d say:

2021 was for new beginnings.

This is what it felt like, this whole year: A reboot, update, upgrade. A new chapter in many ways.

Friends & Family

It’s obvious that everybody deals differently with this pandemic, and folks are in vastly different contexts. So I saw more than a few friends struggle (just like I had the year before), others thrive (by comparison). Overall, there’s a lot of exhaustion, but luckily most people in my inner circle got through the pandemic healthy so far. I’m writing this as the quick rise of the Omicron variant dominates the news, so: Fingers crossed.

Travel

After years of attempting to cut down on travel generally and flights in particular, my travel activity had come to a screeching halt in 2020. How did it go in 2021?

Still almost no travel; past me wouldn’t recognize the life I live currently. My Tripit log (which admittedly is a lot less reliable because I don’t maintain it as thoroughly at the moment) shows a total of 8 trips including a handful of work trips (all by train), some hiking, a short vacation (by train), and two family visits. The only longer distance trip was for a family thing in the US, early in the year. So that’s 4 flight legs and a dozen or so train rides and that’s it. Kind of amazing.

Speaking & Media

I barely gave talks this year, and just had a few interviews and contributions to publications. It was a very light year that way.

Having fun with Zoom’s facial recognition

Health

Overall in good health, and slowly starting to get back into more regular workout habits again — those had crumbled during the lockdown phases of 2020. So that’s good.

Work

Lots of new and interesting work with folks I admire and enjoy working with tremendously. An unusual and frankly humbling amount of job offers, too—something’s in the air this year. Some writing (but not enough), too little reading for my taste.

I’d been shifting my work away from corporate clients towards foundations, civil society, public interest and policy for these last few years, and 2021 feels like I’ve properly arrived in that space. 100% of my work is there now, and I feel right at home.

Towards the end of the year, by happy coincidence, I also got to take over a great little office space from a friend whose needs had changed; so the home office is now officially replaced by a little (Covid-appropriate) office away from home, spacious and with a little reading corner and all, and I love it.

The podcast I co-host with long time collaborator and friend Patrick Tanguay has been on hold this whole year. I hope we can rekindle it, since I both really enjoy those conversations and the topic is even more relevant to my work now than before.

That said, the podcast started out as a complement to a book I intended to write — a way to share research out in the open. So what happened to that book? To be frank, I started and completely abandoned it, at least for now. The conversations in the podcast turned out to be what I enjoyed most about the research, and where I learned most.

Abandoning the book idea is also indicative of my overall writing this year: Whereas last year — and really, most years — I wrote about 100.000 words, this year it would only be a small fraction. My newsletter and blog were pretty low frequency, and that break was just what I needed. I imagine both will be humming along nicely once more quite soon.

Mural at the former airport Berlin Tegel

Books read

I read only about 15 or so books, plus skimming a few work-related ones. That’s not a lot, and I very much look forward to reading more again next year.

Firsts & some things I learned along the way

Firsts: PCR tests. Therapy. Installed sound proofing. Swapped out a laptop battery. Chopped a tree. Performed corona tests on a toddler. Restored an old cast-iron skillet. Climbed the Harz mountain.

Overall, not a lot of new-ness this year.

So what’s next?

I’m wrapping up 2021 on a high note, against the background hum of the pandemic shifting gears. So fingers crossed.

I’m looking forward to a lot writing more again, and to see the first projects of my work this year see the light of day in the coming months.

For now, I hope you get to relax and enjoy the holidays.