2020: A Year in Review – The Good in the Ugly

By Ng Ka Wai 

At the onset of 2020, I joined others into hoping for the start of a better decade. While it is fair to say that no one had 20-20 vision going into the new year – oh the irony – it was clear from the get-go that this year was different.  

Massive wildfires scorched the countryside in Australia while a new pandemic took root, leaving many of us stranded at home. The virus claimed many lives too and its impacts were wide-reaching. 

To say that 2020 has been bleak would be a grievous understatement. COVID-19 has plagued most of the year and left a trail of destruction in its wake. Even as we heave a sigh of relief at the end of what has undoubtedly been a dreary year, global civil unrests continue to sprout, and health experts project the pandemic to persist well into 2021.  

This year has forced many to adjust to an unenviable new way of life. Photo credit: Unsplash | @macauphotoagency

Yet, if we take a closer look, not everything has been gloomy. Positive changes in the hasty development of a vaccine, a fall in global carbon emissions and the strengthening of the Singaporean resolve have emerged as silver linings in a year dotted with so few. Let us review some of the positive things that happened within the past year.

A New Way of Life

One of the biggest positive changes for 2020 is the reconceptualisation of a “work from home” model. A poll conducted by EngageRocket, a Singapore cloud-based software company, polled 20,000 respondents throughout the duration of the Circuit Breaker measures and found that people generally felt more productive at home than at their workplaces.

This observation goes against the pre-conceived notion that we work best within the confines of an office environment. The national movement transitioning to Zoom meetings did not spare NTU either, but the implementation has demonstrated more than just a possibility of having lectures online. It has also shown benefits such as greater flexibility, and a generally less stressful semester for many students. 

silver MacBook Pro
Classes from home, a childhood dream for many. Photo credit: Unsplash | @mikaylamallek

Empowered by more leisure time, many Singaporeans have also taken up new hobbies not previously afforded by Singapore’s intense work culture. Amongst the interests rekindled are activities such as baking, letter writing, sight-seeing and playing musical instruments. Hobbies such as chess have also been on the rise, with eBay reporting a 215% increase in sales of chess sets since October 2020 thanks no doubt to the popularity of Netflix’s latest new series, The Queen’s Gambit

More time at home has also meant more time with families this year, which helped many to reconsider their priorities and be more involved in family life. Mr Brian Tan, CEO of the Centre of Fathering and Dads for Life, noted that many fathers were now more engaged in shared parenting roles following the pandemic.  

Leading the Way with Technology

Singapore has also gained considerable limelight this past year for pioneering the use of technology to fight against the coronavirus. Together with his team, Joel Kek, a software engineer from GovTech, built the TraceTogether app to assist with contact tracing efforts. 

The Singaporean success has encouraged over 50 other countries to mimic and develop similar systems to Singapore’s TraceTogether since the code was made globally available. With a background in the computer sciences, Joel demonstrated the smart use of technical thinking skills that could pave the way forward for aspiring Singaporeans to follow.  

The app, called TraceTogether, can identify people who have been within 2m of a coronavirus patient for at least 30 minutes.
Trace together, a Singaporean concept. Photo credit: Chong Jun Liang on The Straits Times 

A Win for the Environment

Another positive advancement is the fall of global carbon emissions by 4% to 7% this year according to the World Meteorological Organisation, which has cited the decreased economic activity following the virus as a major contribution to this. The European Union has also exceeded its 2020 goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 23% (compared to 1990) – a 3% surplus from what was planned when the EU (European Union) formed the framework in 2008. 

Closer to home, Singapore has unveiled plans to start encouraging the transition towards electric vehicles by January 2021 by offering rebates. These changes mark a promising development for environmental sustainability this year, even as NTU also continues to strive to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.  

Looking Ahead

It is true that 2020 has brought its fair share of challenges, but the year has also left humanity stronger moving forward in the new year. The development of the coronavirus vaccine has made immense progress and there has been a growing consensus for the need to meet new challenges. While it would be unwise to jump the gun, it is fair to say we deserve a little optimism in what has been a long year.