What was Said in 2020 Stays in 2020

Are you ready for 2021? I am. There is no small list of things that I won’t miss about 2020, including some words and terms that are cringey reminders of what we’ve all just been through.

So, in 2021 I vow not to waste time on a few of them. These are a few words and terms I intend to leave behind me in 2020:

The New Normal – Let’s face it, the “new normal” is abnormal and will always be abnormal. I prefer normal or even better-than-normal. I don’t like the new normal or the sub-normal. So it is that  I choose to leave “the new normal” here in 2020. Instead, I will pursue “normal” in 2021. Others may feel differently, and they are free to do so. But don’t expect me to join them.

Social Distancing – Yes, I know. We may have to keep a safe distance for a time after the New Year, but I’m done with the term. I’ll do what I need to do but I’m leaving this language in 2020. If you want to talk about “social distancing,” how to do it, who’s doing it, who’s not doing it, and who should do it in 2021, find someone else.

Lockdowns – They happened in 2020. As more data and analysis comes out, lockdowns seem to have worked, particularly in those first 15 days to slow the spread of a virus. After that, even experts are  divided on their effectiveness.  One thing we do know, lockdowns have had devastating effects on the economy, families and communities. With all that we continue to learn, combined with the new treatments, a new vaccine, and now the use of commonly understood mitigation efforts, you could say I’m done with discussing lockdowns.

Dr. Anthony Fauci – I never knew who Dr. Anthony Fauci was before 2020, and nothing against him personally, but I look forward to a time when I forget his name.

Reimagine – In my work, I’ve always been extremely sensitive to terms that are propagandist in nature and have worked really hard to avoid them. This is one of those terms. When an artist says he wants to reimagine impressionist theory, I’m cool with that. Or, when an architect says she wants to reimagine the family living space, I say, “Go for it.” But when the word “reimagine” is used to justify arbitrary budget cuts, unnecessary elimination of jobs, destruction of industries or organizations, then you’re not reimagining anything. You’re tearing it down or tearing it apart. Be honest.

Remote work/remote learning – Prior to 2020, I really liked these concepts. In fact, I’ve worked from a home office for many years and love it, and I have no intention of changing it. But the work-from-home craze that erupted out of the collective response to the pandemic is getting old. While I recognize that remote work and remote learning are going to effect larger change in the way organizations function, I look forward to seeing how it will work out for those who actually like it. And for those who don’t like it, I look forward to a time when they can go back to the office or the classroom wherever they are most happy. I have the sense that when everyone is where they want to be, we’ll all be a little bit happier.

Misinformation or disinformation – The words aren’t new but they took on new meaning in 2020. Ironically (but not coincidentally), they are terms more commonly associated with propaganda strategies, but the words themselves are now used to drive propagandist tactics. The words have been weaponized by those who want to discredit someone else’s opinion, facts, or thoughts.

In short, while misinformation is described as the unethical deceptive use of information, often as not in 2020, when someone accused someone else of spreading misinformation, it was they who armed the word to deceive.

In 2020, if someone didn’t like what they heard or who delivered the message, they may have resorted to calling the content “disinformation” or “misinformation.” In other words, if you agree with me that’s truth, that’s fact. If you disagree, well, that’s misinformation. In my work in public relations, these are fad words. As long as I’ve been in the PR business (and before that in the news media), I’ve seen how people have been coming up with words and terms to discredit those they oppose.

Because this is an issue that will likely demand more of my attention in 2021, I most likely will have more to say on this in other contexts, but one thing you can be sure of, you won’t catch me using these words in the normal course.

Curation – Sounds harmless, doesn’t it? Museum directors are curators. They catalog dinosaur bones and taxidermied wildlife or insects. Sometime in the last five years, someone discovered this word and dusted it off as a way to describe how the big social media platforms “should” take an active interest in our social media posts. When they “curate” they pass value judgements on content to determine who should or should not have a digital voice. Curation is editing at best, censorship at worst. I’m sure this word will gain traction in 2021, but for me, its life cycle ends on December 31st.

As I look ahead to 2021, I think I’m going to replace some of these terms with words like freedom, and faith,  and privacy, and a few others. When I think about this little plan, it already has me looking ahead in a way that reminds me that as hard as 2020 tried to defeat me, it lost.

Here’s to a Happy Holiday season and a really great New Year to you and yours!

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Tim O’Brien is a veteran corporate communications consultant and crisis communicator who operates O’Brien Communications in Pittsburgh. He’s worked with organizations from Fortune 500 companies, to start-ups and nonprofits. He is honest when others aren’t, he uses words that others won’t, all to help organizations connect in ways they haven’t. He’s also the creator and host of the Shaping Opinion podcast. Reach him at timobrien@timobrienpr.com or on Twitter @OBrienPR.




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