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The Lessons Of 2018 (Clearly, We Still Have A Lot To Learn)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., right, and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., left, walk out of the West Wing to speak to members of the media outside of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, following a meeting with President Donald Trump. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., right, and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., left, walk out of the West Wing to speak to members of the media outside of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, following a meeting with President Donald Trump. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

2018 was like a treadmill: Never-ending scandals, never-stopping outrage, “never agains” that kept happening again. Clearly, we still have a lot to learn, but there’s always room for progress. Here are some lessons from a workout of a year.

Respect your brand

This was the year of Lady-Friendly Doritos, a half-baked idea based on the assumption that women want to be dainty when they stress-eat bags of Cool Ranch. It was the year of the IHOb fake-out, when IHOP pretended to change its name so more people would order hamburgers from its menu. (Would you order banana pancakes at a steakhouse? Well then, stop.) It was the year Oreo — which, in its natural state, is humankind’s highest achievement in processed food — continued its assault on decency with flavors like Pina Colada, Peeps and the dreaded Pumpkin Spice. Maybe these gambits got the desired attention, but something was also lost. Like the “Donuts” in “Dunkin Donuts,” which we’ll probably never get back.

Don’t write off the lady with experience

Nancy Pelosi was embattled, insulted, pegged as a symbol of the bad old guard. But who was that sitting in a box with Cher during the Kennedy Center Honors last week? The soon-to-be-House-Speaker-again isn’t a stirring orator or a master of wit, but she knows how to count votes, raise money, twist arms and keep control. That’s why she closed out the year by tamping down a mutiny in the Democratic caucus without breaking a nail or a sweat, then launching a meme in her tomato-red coat and shades. Some incoming members might own Twitter these days, but Pelosi still owns the House.

Don’t put all your thoughts on social media, celebrity edition

Kevin Hart. Roseanne Barr. Contestants on “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette.” The would-be director of “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3.” This year’s Heisman Trophy winner. There’s no shortage of people — famous, or aiming to get there — who so love to read themselves in micro spurts that they forget that on the Internet, tasteless jokes travel fast and live forever. America’s capacity for forgiveness — didn’t Mel Gibson make a movie this year? — hasn’t yet fully extended to Ill-Advised Things People Post Online.

Don’t put all your thoughts on social media, regular people edition

Data breaches. Data scandals. Unmoderated hate speech. Fights with your racist uncle. There are 999 reasons to leave Facebook, but also an ugly truth: They’re able to play fast and loose with our data because we willingly put it there. Yes, the social media platform is a useful place for organizing people, selling old sofas, trolling racist neighbors and stalking ex-boyfriends. But could we limit our activities to those few things, and leave the oversharing to a minimum? (And would that matter, datawise, if we’re all still using Gmail?)

Don’t expect a book about Trump to change anything

In January, it was “Fire and Fury,” which Michael Wolff said he reported while squatting on a couch in the West Wing. In April, it was “A Higher Loyalty,” James Comey’s quasi-enlightening tell-all. In September, it was “Fear” by Bob Woodward (with large sections that seemed to be dictated by Steve Bannon). Each one was going to shock the world with tales of dysfunction, backstabbing, and obstruction in the White House. But nothing shocks the world about Donald Trump. And if anything brings him down, it’s not going to be a book. Or anything he writes on Twitter, but that’s another story.

Don’t underestimate the power of a good story

Here’s a joke I heard from a filmmaker, decades ago: A screenwriter falls asleep and dreams of the perfect story idea — but in the morning, he can’t remember what it was. So friend advises him to put a pen and paper next to his bed, write down his dream in the middle of the night, then see what he wrote in the morning. He does just that, breathlessly grabs the paper at dawn, and reads: “Boy meets girl.” Some stories just work, which explains the success of “Crazy Rich Asians” (basic romance, plus food and architecture porn), and the Royal Wedding (basic romance, plus misplaced Anglophilia). The same principle applies to last summer’s Thai cave rescue: Adventure, tension, unparalleled bravery and a drama more compelling than most of the 10,000 new original series on Netflix.

Consider whether you really want those AirPods

Sometimes I think Apple is just trolling us -- like the Gap did back in 1999, when it ordered everyone to wear ugly vests. Why else would a company that set new standards for design in personal electronics want people to walk around with oversized Q-Tips hanging out of their ears? On the other hand, Apple’s $160 electric audio matchsticks were so popular this holiday season that they became a meme. And in 2018, the company continued to flex its power — instructing the sheep to buy new $1,000 phones with no home buttons, a notch at the top of the display, and a freakish facial recognition feature that quickly sparked a backlash. Maybe 2019 will be a good year for grumpy old Luddites. Probably not.

Joanna Weiss Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Joanna Weiss is the editor of Experience Magazine, published by Northeastern University.

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