Thank you for all the coffee this year! I feel very alert and caffeinated because of your generous support. Here’s a little extra perk to share my gratitude.

The Highlighter features four great articles every week. But which are most popular among loyal readers? Here were the five most popular articles of 2021. Please enjoy!

#1: The Zoom Gaze

BY AUTUMM CAINES, REAL LIFE MAGAZINE

The reason we’re tired of Zoom is not just because we’re looking at screens all day. According to technologist Autumm Caines, the software has transformed the norms by which we interact with each other and the way we perceive ourselves.

Toni Morrison rejected the white gaze in literature that presumes the white reader’s perspective as neutral. Scholar Laura Mulvey criticized the male gaze in film that centers straight men and objectifies women. In this article, Ms. Caines explores the power dynamics of the Zoom gaze and asks, “Whose perspective does it seek to naturalize? What does it condition us to see?”

By encouraging us to see ourselves being seen, by offering 68 video settings that we can manipulate, by skewing eye contact, by making us work harder to express and receive emotion, Zoom promotes self-surveillance and magnifies performance culture, “opening a gap between how we wish to be perceived and how we know ourselves to actually be.” (12 min) (Issue #278)

#2: I’m Failing My Students

BY TOM RADEMACHER, MEDIUM

Tom Rademacher teaches Language Arts to eighth graders in Minnesota. Before the pandemic, he was on top of the world, being named the state’s teacher of the year, writing books, feeling confident and effective. But this year, as young people return from nearly two years of virtual school, “teaching is just harder.” Mr. Rademacher has run out of energy and patience. “I have less of me to give. I hate being bad at this.”

He writes: “All of us are tired. All of us are doing too much. It’s absurd to me that this year, after last year and after the year before it, we are doing anything other than healing. This should be a year of simple. This should be a year when every non-essential thing is stripped away and every arm we can manage is wrapped around our students to welcome them back into something that feels solid, feels stable, feels human.” (5 min) (Issue #320)

#3: The Anxiety of Influencers

BY BARRETT SWANSON, HARPER’S MAGAZINE

Last year during the pandemic, English professor Barrett Swanson needed a vacation. His teaching had become less about analyzing James Baldwin and more about tending to his students’ anxieties and their comfort animals. Prof. Swanson wondered, Was there another way to support young people as they headed into adulthood? Indeed there was — at the Clubhouse for the Boys mansion, a collab house in Los Angeles where TikTok stars “hone their voice.” One of the owners says, “We really see ourselves as an influencer university.” Tons of layers here. (38 min) (Issue #294)

#4: Denial Is The Heartbeat Of America

BY IBRAM X. KENDI, THE ATLANTIC

Ibram X. Kendi: “We must stop the heartbeat of denial and revive America to the thumping beat of truth. The carnage has no chance of stopping until the denial stops. This is not who we are must become, in the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. Capitol: This is precisely who we are. And we are ashamed. And we are aggrieved at what we’ve done, at how we let this happen. But we will change. We will hold the perpetrators accountable. We will change policy and practices. We will radically root out this problem. It will be painful. But without pain there is no healing.

“And in the end, what will make America true is the willingness of the American people to stare at their national face for the first time, to open the book of their history for the first time, and see themselves for themselves — all the political viciousness, all the political beauty — and finally right the wrongs, or spend the rest of the life of America trying. This can be who we are.” (12 min) (Issue #276)

#5: The Lost Year: What The Pandemic Cost Teenagers

BY ALEC MACGILLIS, PROPUBLICA

Up until this year, Kooper Davis charmed his teachers, got straight A’s, and played quarterback for the Hobbs High School football team in New Mexico. He had his sights set on Stanford. But the state’s protracted shutdown canceled the football season, which led Kooper’s mental health to decline. In this heartbreaking article, Alec MacGillis argues that closed schools have led not only to losses in learning. They’ve also caused soaring rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. That’s not the case, though, in Texas, just a 10-minute drive away, where schools have remained open all year. (42 min)) (Issue #284)

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Thank you again for a great year, and for all the coffee! See you this Thursday, when I reveal my favorite articles of the year. Will there be some overlaps? We will see.