Sunday, December 17, 2017
Perspective

What we'll remember from 2013

January. Barack Obama, the nation's first African-American president, is inaugurated for the second time. His second term, of a presidency that is a work still in progress, will set the tone for how history defines him and the times in which he served. And, for that matter, us.

February. With the right cartridges, a 3-D printer can theoretically "print" any object. In his State of the Union address, the president says 3-D printing "has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything." Before the year is out, a printed gun is successfully fired, a journalist prints his dinner (and the flatware and silverware with which to eat it), and medical printing advances astound, such as bone replacement being printed using human stem cells and artificial "scaffolding." It gives rather a new meaning to the "print preview" function on your computer, doesn't it?

March. Pope Francis becomes the first non-European pontiff in a millennium and promptly shakes up the church, recommitting it to social and economic justice. He called out "trickle-down economics" by name and said it is a failed idea. Oh, and he lives in a small apartment and drives an old car. He intends to lead a different church.

April. Two bombs made from pressure cookers explode near the finish of the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring more than 250 people. Boston stays strong, but massive public sporting events will feel different now.

May. Just how much the National Security Agency knows about us — and how much we don't know about what it knows — is about to become big news. Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor, quietly flies from Hawaii to Hong Kong, just days before his leaked confidential documents start making the front page. He leaves Hong Kong, lands in exile in Moscow and from there, ends the year with a Christmas message on British TV.

June. Gay marriage becomes ever more routine. The Supreme Court strikes down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act and overturns California's Prop 8, widening the door for gay marriage. Same-sex marriage is now legal in one-third of America, including California, Minnesota, Hawaii, Illinois, Rhode Island, Delaware, New Jersey, New Mexico and Utah just this year.

July. Earth poses for its selfie, and we're reminded that we're just a pale blue dot. On July 19, the NASA space probe Cassini in orbit around Saturn takes advantage of the shadowing of a saturnian solar eclipse to take a photo of the Earth from nearly 1 billion miles away. We're that itty-bitty dot of light to the bottom right of Saturn. The head of Cassini's imaging team asked everybody on Earth to look up, smile and remember the moment. Lest we get too full of ourselves, it's also a reminder that we're a speck in the universe and that we better take care of this tiny home because it's all we've got.

August. Football players wear helmets because they hit their heads. And they often get concussions. This month, the NFL settled a concussion lawsuit with thousands of former players for hundreds of millions of dollars. People love the sport but no longer can deny the damage. And participation in Pop Warner youth football has declined. Will reforms and new rules keep a violent sport civilized enough to remain so popular?

September. News meets old. Amazon's Jeff Bezos meets the staff of the Washington Post after buying it for — at least, for him — pocket change. Staffers at one of the most important journalistic institutions in America, the storied Pulitzer-laden newspaper that broke Watergate, are heartened by his plans. But the fact remains: The Post is owned by a guy who sells stuff on the Internet. The New Economy that both created the wealth of such a buyer and the need for such an august seller to go out to market show how rapidly the ground beneath the foundations of serious journalism and information technology has shifted. Good luck predicting where this ends.

October. Quick. Free association. We say "HealthCare.gov." You say? How you respond says something about your politics, or at least your view of Obamacare, as well as something about the moment. But what of history? October was the month the website opened and promptly failed to work. It's been improving. But only in the future will we be able to judge how well the Affordable Care Act — Obama's signature program — and its associated website worked for the American people.

November. Maybe we're not alone in the universe. The known odds of life far, far away from Earth improve beyond scientists' boldest dreams. Astronomers analyze the date from NASA's Kepler space telescope and report that there could be as many as 40 billion habitable Earth-size planets in the galaxy.

December. The drones are everywhere. They're in Asian skies, silently stalking suspected terrorists, then killing them — but oftentimes civilians as well. Hollywood wants to use them to film movies. Many private citizens just want to have them. And, at least in the dreams of Amazon, they will be delivering packages to your door soon after you place your order. Amazon's Bezos goes on 60 Minutes to lay out his vision, complete with video. On the other hand, residents of one Colorado town have considered giving out hunting licenses for drones. Sitting ducks or ducking drones?

It's hard to see history in the making, to guess which of today's major news stories will prove to have been pivotal through the long lens of time. No matter. For fun, here we offer one event for each month of the year just ending that tells us something about the time in which we live and may turn out to have mattered when we look back from the future with the benefit of hindsight's clear vision.

     
             
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