Colorado legalizes marijuana sales
Despite a federal ban on marijuana, Colorado passed a ballot initiative to legalize the drug, and sales began January 1, 2014. There were dire predictions: that crime would increase, that high driving would lead to car accidents, that youth drug use would increase, and that marijuana-laced Halloween candy could sicken kids. The additional tax revenue enabled Colorado to build new schools. Reports of children who had accidentally eaten marijuana edibles did increase, but serious crime decreased in Denver, and fatal traffic accidents are at near historic lows.
Supreme Court sides with Hobby Lobby
Under the Affordable Care Act, all private companies were required to pay for their employees' birth control. But some companies, led by the retailer Hobby Lobby, said this violated their religious beliefs — and filed a lawsuit against the government. In a ruling this June, the Supreme Court sided with Hobby Lobby against mandatory birth-control coverage. Millions of women will still have their birth control covered through the ACA, via Medicaid or the federal insurance exchange.
2014 midterm elections
In the 2014 midterm campaign, Democrats tried to rely on the Republican "war on women" to drive women to the polls. But the electorate in November was largely older and white — as it usually is for midterm elections. The election saw victories for gay marriage, marijuana legalization, minimum wage increases — and Republicans, who won eight Senate seats and will control both chambers of Congress in 2015.
Janet Yellen becomes Fed chair
Janet Yellen was confirmed as the first woman head of the Federal Reserve.
Capital in the 21st Century
Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century became a best-seller despite being a long, dense economic tome. The book posits that inequality increases when r>g — that is, when the rate of return on capital exceeds the rate of economic growth. Piketty advocates a global effort to tax wealth to counter this inequality. Many people bought the book, but data on the book's Amazon Kindle readers suggested that many did not actually read it.
End of "QE3"
As of January 2014, the Fed's tapering of the third round of quantitative easing — aka QE3 — had already begun, with the central bank spending $75 billion per month on asset purchases. As of October, it had gradually ramped down the purchases to zero, and the Fed announced the end of QE3.
2014 World Cup
In summer 2014, much of the world was glued to the World Cup in Brazil. The US team lost its first game in the knockout round, despite the capable hands of goalie Tim Howard. Home team Brazil, who'd been waiting 64 years for a shot to win the Cup at home, was defeated 7-1(!) by eventual Cup winners Germany. And Luis Suarez of Uruguay bit a dude — hurting his team's chances in the process, as he got a hefty suspension past the end of the tournament. The tournament ended with a tearful German team accepting, and kissing, the Cup.
In April 2014, researchers discovered the Heartbleed bug — a major flaw in SSL, a technology that secures most online commerce. The flaw makes it possible for attackers anywhere in the world to steal private data, including passwords, from websites. Thousands of organizations rushed to update their software before hackers stole their information. In the wake of Heartbleed, major tech companies have increased their investment in online security — though more is probably needed.
Ice bucket challenge
The ice bucket challenge started as a silly internet game where people dared each other to pour water on their heads. When Pete Frates, a 29-year-old living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease) got nominated, he decided to attach ALS onto the existing hashtag #IceBucketChallenge. With the new fundraising purpose, the challenge went viral, inspiring people to dump freezing water over their heads in an effort to raise money and support ALS research. The public debated whether this was the most efficient way for people to give to charity, but it succeeded at meeting its goal: the #IceBucketChallenge raised over $100 million for ALS research.
In August, a blog post written by the ex-boyfriend of a female game developer implied the developer had slept with journalists to get better reviews. The incident collided with existing feminist criticism of gamer culture, and spawned a high-profile controversy over gaming, sexism and journalism — centered around the hashtag #gamergate. #gamergate adherents doxxed several of their female critics (including celebrities like Felicia Day), and sent harassing emails and death threats — forcing at least one critic to flee her home in fear. But in any public discussion of what #gamergate was really about, or criticism of the tactics of some of its defenders, Gamergaters invariably replied: "It's about ethics in journalism."
Apple Watch and iPhone 6
Apple CEO Tim Cook announced several new, high-profile products: the Apple Watch, the iPhone 6, and the iPhone 6+. Among its many functions, the Apple Watch will track wearers' fitness and even enable them to send their heartbeats to each other. The iPhone 6 and 6+ were well received, but there were a few bugs: the huge 6+ didn't fit into people's pockets, and it also received criticism for being too large for women's smaller hands. Long-haired users also complained that the phones were catching on and pulling out their locks.
Thaw in US/Cuba relations
For decades, the US refused to officially recognize communist Cuba, and imposed a strict trade embargo and travel restrictions. The result: misery and economic impoverishment for Cubans, many of whom defected to the US. After Canada and Pope Francis talked the US into negotiating with Cuba, the Obama administration announced in December that it was making a deal with the country to extend diplomatic recognition, trade prisoners, expand travel, and facilitate some kinds of economic activity. Republicans accused President Obama of caving to the Castro family, but the industries aided by the policy, and many Cuban families, were pleased.
Sony gets hacked over The Interview
"The Interview" — a Seth Rogen/James Franco movie about North Korea, including a scene where Korean leader Kim Jong Un is assassinated — was supposed to go into wide release in 2014. But then, mysterious hackers accessed and leaked, thousands of internal documents from Sony, the studio that produced the film — and the FBI linked North Korea to the hacks. Sony initially pulled the film due to fears of terrorism, but after criticism from President Obama agreed to show it in theatres on Christmas. (The critics were largely unimpressed.)
We could try to explain what happened in the elevator of New York's Standard Hotel after the Met Gala in May, when Solange Knowles apparently attacked her brother-in-law Jay Z. But we'll just leave it to Beyonce, the other party in the incident: "Of course, sometimes s--- goes down when there's a billion dollars on an elevator."
Celebrity photo hack
In August, hackers stole private photos off of the phones of female celebrities in various states of undress and leaked them on the internet. This invasion of private property was illegal and devastating. It also spurred a conversation about computer privacy and sexting.
Taylor Swift's "1989"
Taylor Swift's most recent studio album was recorded during secret sessions, where she provided cookies to her fans and garnered hype. When the album was released in October, it sold more than 1 million copies in the first week. Taylor made a ton of money.
"Too Many Cooks"
For a brief time in November, the Internet was obsessed with "Too Many Cooks" — a video produced by Adult Swim, which was one part pastiche of 1980s TV show genres and one part just plain weird. The complexity of the 10-minute video led fans to rewatch it again and again for clues. This emoji recreation isn't quite shot-for-shot, but it's pretty darn close.