Forget the sporting achievements and the scientific breakthroughs – what we will remember of the last 12 months are the own goals and the pratfalls
It has often been observed that we’re living in a golden age for creativity and new ideas: thanks to technology, and connectivity, the gap between having an idea and seeing it made real has never been narrower. You don’t need an old-school publisher before you write the erotic novel that will subsequently become one of the fastest-selling books of all time; you don’t need the backing of a major music label, or a consumer conglomerate, when you can fund your album or iPad app via Kickstarter, or your one-person business, in the developing world, via the micro-lending website Kiva.org.
A movie director has only to envision an Olympics opening ceremony in which the Queen jumps out of a helicopter, or in which rain falls from artificial clouds, and he can – given sufficient cash, of course – make it happen. If you can figure out how a synthetic nanoparticle might be used to fight childhood cancer, you can go ahead and develop it, as Australian researchers did this year.
And even if you’ve no big ideas yourself, the culture offers countless opportunities to consume or celebrate them, from TED talks to The Apprentice to a thousand books on how cloud computing or 3D printing or genome sequencing will change the world.
What’s far less frequently observed is that many of these ideas are bad. Like, really bad. In a climate so receptive to fresh thinking, and to turning those thoughts into reality, this is only to be expected: whatever the techno-evangelists may claim, there’s nothing inherent in the wisdom of the crowd, or the forward march of Progress, that guarantees that only the best stuff will rise to the top.
This is what accounts for I’m A Celebrity, and manipulating the Libor rate, and the student prank of “milking“, and politicians doing Gangnam Style. It’s what accounts for Mitt Romney, and the existence of bacon mayonnaise.
Hence Guardian Weekend’s review of the worst ideas of 2012, a showcase of the misbegotten notions – in politics, finance, film, technology, literature, fashion and elsewhere – that we’d all have been far better off without.
Other reviews of the year will give you the highlights of 2012 (short version: the Olympics, the Olympics and the Olympics), but the bad stuff is no less consequential, and sometimes more so. We flinch from inspecting our failures and embarrassments, the things that infuriated or depressed us. But it’s only by examining, say, what’s wrong with our systems of corporate taxation, or with Kim Kardashian’s Twitter feed, that we can ever hope to do things better. We come not to mock, but to analyse and understand. To learn.
Well, OK, and also to mock. Some ideas – a curiously large proportion of which seem to originate in the mind of George Osborne – amply deserve mockery. But this isn’t simply an exercise in sneering at others. We made these bad ideas happen, and you did, too (especially if you follow Kim Kardashian on Twitter).
Consider this, then, as both a series of cautionary tales and a rueful reflection on the wrongness of a shockingly large proportion of human activity. In all sorts of ways, we handled the past year really badly. It’ll probably be much the same story in 2013, too. Happy new year, everybody!