Monocle’s editor in chief on the year ahead.
We’ll start by coming clean on a glaring omission within our pages: you won’t find much in here about US leadership from January 2021 onwards. While some print-media brands have chosen to push their publication dates back to wait for a result, we decided to press on for a variety of reasons. First, because it’s a big, wide world and there’s more to focus on than the US. Second, there are more pressing issues and ideas that need airtime. And third, monocle has other outlets better suited to reporting on the road to inauguration day: our daily newsletters (subscribe at monocle.com/minute) and, of course, our round-the-clock radio service (tune in at monocle.com/radio).
On the day we sent the forecast to press, I sat down with another president – a more empathetic, wise, measured and attentive type of leader. Simonetta Sommaruga is well known in the offices of other European leaders and in diplomatic circles but she’s not quite a household name, like New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern. Nevertheless, as president of the Swiss confederation, she’s a confident, engaging and pragmatic force currently heading up one of the world’s most stable democracies. During our conversation in her spare but well-appointed corner office, she touched on a variety of topics that you will find in the pages of this magazine. But a key subject that we agreed on was the need for more responsible media, more funding for public-service news outlets and the need for a free press that allows for more debate and civic engagement. (You can read and hear more from Madame Sommaruga in our forthcoming Swiss-themed December/January issue and across our Monocle 24 programmes and podcasts.)
On the train back to Zürich one of Sommaruga’s comments kept ringing in my ears. “We want to bring everyone along,” she said. “No one should be left behind.” As we sped along, the simplicity of her statement made me think that others might also want to consider these words when looking at their business plans or policy documents.
“It might work to move bank customers to a tablet, or public-transport passengers to an app, but we should remember that it doesn’t work for everyone”
Over the past 12 months, we’ve seen hundreds of millions of elderly people “shielding” and cut off from society; shouldn’t we be asking ourselves whether we’ve really done enough to bring the silver set along? In a year when so many business leaders have been celebrating their savvy digitisation moves, it took a panel of design and media experts on stage in Lugano to remind us how disconnected many over the age of 70 are. When asked about whether the digital divide is narrowing, every panellist referred to a parent who doesn’t know how to use their mobile phone, is bombarded with poorly worded “alerts” and is stressed or feeling inadequate because technology has moved too fast and there’s no one at the end of the phone or who can pay a visit to support them. It might work to move bank customers to a tablet, or public-transport passengers to an app, but we should remember that it doesn’t work for everyone. Just as there are provisions made for the visually impaired or for those with physical disabilities, there’s a need to consider the millions who have trouble working a fiddly touchscreen of tiny apps.
If 2020 was the year that finally showed the very real problems with the free-for-all that is social media (false hopes, fake cures, suicides prompted by schoolyard shaming, a beheaded teacher in France), then this theme needs to carry on into 2021 and the owners of these businesses must be held to account. It needs to not only hurt but stop. Likewise, we should have a very honest discussion in agms, boardrooms, parent-teacher evenings and on shop floors to highlight the very real problem of digital disconnection. There is much good that comes with digitisation but we shouldn’t be fearful of calling out something that’s sold to us as progress but is, in fact, little more than a cost-saving shortcut that fails the customer, the citizen and civil society.
Looking ahead, we hope that the essays, reports, interviews and products in these pages help to inform and improve your 2021 and beyond. As ever, we’ve gone the distance to challenge what you might be reading or watching elsewhere, while also addressing the topics that we feel require greater scrutiny or more than a walk-on part.
Having pulled off one successful, in-person event of scale in these times (see more on The Chiefs conference here), it is our intention to host an Asian edition as soon as possible – and we’ll be returning to St Moritz next September. Meanwhile, we look forward to seeing you in London, Zürich, Merano, Tokyo, Los Angeles and Toronto – or possibly at a new address. Wishing you a happy, healthy and prosperous new year. Cheers and thank you for your support.