Eden Chen

Reflections on 2020

Eden Chen January 01, 2021

It is better to go to the house of mourning
than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.

Ecclesiastes 7:2-3

2020 by all statistical measures has been the best year of my life. I don’t say this in order to boast but as a lament. My life was structured to benefit from the acceleration of digitization – my wealth, efficiency, and time with family have increased significantly – all as a direct result of the 2020 pandemic. I have three laments as a result of this:

One, a life that is merely highly functional and statistically valuable is a life that is meaningless. For instance, my company Pragma made a decision to go full remote a few months ago. It seemed to make a lot of sense, people love remote, we spend more time working and more time at home. Yet, the more I consider the reasons why we work – to build something great with people that I love – the more I am doubting our decision. What’s lost in physical spaces cannot be measured and it’s the reason why so many businesses have fully embraced a remote future – almost all of the measurable outcomes benefit from remote work. The things that cannot be measured though, are the reasons why people stay inspired over the long term, and ultimately the ramifications cannot be understood. I am deeply worried about a society that is increasingly only about efficiency – this is a society that is increasingly individualistic and isolated. We’ve seen so many people leave their cities because it doesn’t make sense to pay more for less space. This only exposed the fact that many of those people never cared for their communities (sorry for the generalization) but what they could get from their neighborhoods.

Two, I am in a camp that has benefited from the pandemic. This camp happens to be the camp that has also happened to benefit over the last 20 years. The outcome is turning an already unstable and unequal society into one that approaches a tipping point. We are a society that is increasingly controlled by a small number of “tech entrepreneurs” that have little to no regard on the impact their products have on society. What will be left after Door Dash turns every restaurant into a cloud kitchen, Netflix bankrupts every theater chain and transitions all entertainment to the isolated home sofa, Zoom turns every meeting into a black box, and Facebook turns every other moment into a never ending scrolling addiction of meaningless consumption feeds? One of the most talked about startups of 2020 is Only Fans – a site that sells porn – but is subscription based… The most popular coping mechanism this year was making money trading tech stocks. We tech entrepreneurs pat ourselves on the back as the saviors of the world and don’t want to talk or think about the ways that we have exponentially benefited. We provided all these services for people to spend their stimulus checks on during a pandemic, what would we have done without technology?

Third, I’ve never been so disappointed in the Christian community as in 2020. The church, as important as it is, has never consistently been a good representative for Jesus. I suppose that should be assumed given one of Christianity’s fundamental tenets – every one of us is born in sin. I’ve personally never been so disappointed though. The Christian faith was first evangelized by 12 apostles, 11 of which sacrificed their lives to tell others the good news of the gospel. William Tyndale was a leading figure of the protestant reformation who was burned at the stake for translating the Bible to english. Christianity is reported to have spread because of responses to the weak and suffering, primarily during plagues in the 1st to 4th centuries. And yet Christians in this pandemic are seen as primarily fighting for their own freedoms. The freedom to not wear a mask. The freedom to hold physical religious services. The majority of us voted for the most narcissistic man I’ve ever seen because he supported our policy objectives and many continue to call his loss a fraud. We had an opportunity this year to lay down our lives on behalf of other people and show people that our treasure and king are not of this world and we blew it.

This is my lament of 2020. We were always slowly moving in this direction, the pandemic just accelerated and revealed it. As the author in Ecclesiastes says, “it is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting for this is the end of all mankind.” This was a year of mourning and what will we do with all the sorrow we’ve been given this year? Celebrate our statistical wins? Forget 2020 ever happened? Sign up for a 1% pledge and pat ourselves on the back? 2020 gave us the unique opportunity to reflect in isolation on how important physical relationships are, how beautiful this world is that we live in, and how we need to reflect and we need to make a change. The house of mourning is the place that we remember that we will all die one day. My question at the end of this year is how am I any different as one that has benefited? What am I doing with all the gifts, prosperity, and influence that I’ve been given? How will I lay my life down for others in 2021?

Thank you Jesus that you are all about new beginnings. There’s not a lot of value in criticizing others for the sake of criticism but as a means of reflecting on the state of my own heart – I am the highly functional, tech entrepreneur, Christian. Grace and peace to all for 2021!

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