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Welcome to the Time Issue of The Highlight

Why time felt warped this year, plus an accounting of how women’s work is (or isn’t) valued, an ode to hours spent video gaming, and more. 

Photo Illustration by Michael Waraksa for Vox/Getty Images

Has there ever been a year in which we felt the passage of time quite so intensely?

In many ways, 2020 didn’t even truly begin until mid-March, when much of the world synchronously stopped and took shelter. If at first we hoped for a swift resolution, a few weeks at most, we soon began to count time’s passage in months, in squandered Friday nights, in gray hairs and inches of waistline and missed holidays.

As 2020 comes to a slow, slightly hopeful conclusion, The Highlight devotes its year-end issue to time — how elastic it has become, how we spent it, the events in our lives that illuminate how little of it we truly have. In four essays and one comic, writers tell the stories of our time in the collective sense and the personal.

For our cover story, science journalist Shannon Stirone looks at our new understanding of time through the lens of science and the cosmos itself. We are a future-facing species, biologically inclined to move forward, she writes. As this year has stripped us of our collective sense of what’s ahead, is it any wonder we’re feeling out of sorts?

Also, over the last 12 months, The Goods deputy editor Alanna Okun dispensed with her sense of how we’re “supposed” to spend time (being productive, being present, contributing to society), and instead devoted a shocking number of hours to losing herself within the alternate realities of video games. What she found was the glorious indulgence of stealing away when our own world isn’t necessarily where one wants to be.

In other essays, writers search for answers: For Tiffanie Drayton, it was how to capture and preserve time after years spent awake at night fearing for herself and her family amid the systemic racism of America. For Martha M. Crawford, it was asking how one spends time when one realizes that another year of life is not a given.

Finally, Aubrey Hirsch explores how the pandemic has reshaped women’s lives in significant and measurable ways, causing an exodus of women from the workforce, a reduction in women’s earning hours, and an eerie sense that women’s time — suddenly, inexplicably — matters less.

On the cusp of a new year, when thinking about the future is inevitable, we can say this with some certainty: 2020 was a time warp, and it will have resonance for years to come.

Getty Images

2020 was a time warp

Was it a year, a day, or a millennium? Science offers clues to why it feels like all of the above.

By Shannon Stirone

Momo Pixel for Vox

What was 2020? For me, it was video games.

1,200 hours later, I regret nothing.

By Alanna Okun

Getty Images

Racism took its toll in stolen days, months, and years. I was done waiting.

Tired of the time taken away from me, I decided to leave America behind.

By Tiffanie Drayton

Aubrey Hirsch for Vox

The pandemic is forcing women out of the paid workforce in droves

A comic on how — between child care and homeschooling — hour for hour, women’s time is becoming worth less.

By Aubrey Hirsch

Getty Images/iStockphoto

I was always terrified of wasting time. A cancer diagnosis made me reconsider.

Faced with the possibility I’d have no future at all, I abandoned lofty goals and momentum and found something far richer.

By Martha M. Crawford

Future Perfect

Our love of orcas is making them miserable


Mud libraries hold the story of the Earth’s climate past — and foretell its future


How to talk to a loved one about their health

View all stories in The Highlight