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Discover the ‘Words That Matter’ in 2017

Margaret Atwood, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Roxane Gay, Deepak Chopra, Ellen Pao, Jonathan Safran Foer, and dozens of other influential voices reflect on the words that defined the year

If there were ever a year that’ll take a long time to process, it’s 2017. (Probably because we spent most of it processing 2016.) With laws, leadership, and social norms changing at a pace so relentless our data plans can scarcely keep up, our mental energy is spent skimming endless push notifications, rather than taking the time to step back and think about what it all means.

From AI to cryptocurrency, #MeToo to #VegasStrong, and tax reform to net neutrality, millions of readers turned to Medium this year to read beyond the headlines, make sense of the senseless, and draw inspiration from fresh voices. Likewise, storytellers turned to Medium to share their experiences and expertise, writing with the kind of depth, nuance, and context that has the power to change — or at least open — minds. The potential of the conversations that begin here is just one reason, of many, that we believe words matter.

Welcome to Words That Matter: 2017.

So we thought it’d be fun to ask some of the year’s boldest thinkers, newsmakers, and creators to reflect on just one: the one word that mattered most in 2017. Some contributors chose the words upending their industries; others, the words upending our society; and others still reflected on the kind of personal growth — and personal pain — that transcends both pay grade and political party. The result is a collection of over 40 essays that explores the buzzwords, the bad days, the violence, and the victories that make up a year — one word at a time.

We’ve invited a diverse set of voices across a spectrum of topics. John McCain exposes how chaos defeated order this year, and Hillary Clinton argues for the value of radical empathy. Roxane Gay dives into why words — and the truth — still matter, while Margaret E. Atwood reflects on The Handmaid’s Tale through a modern lens. Jonathan Safran Foer reflects on the act of reflecting.

Powerful essays try to make sense of our political landscape. Ana Marie Cox redefines what it means to be an ally in 2017, Eve L. Ewing frames today’s struggles in historical context, Carmen Maria Machado and Deepak Chopra reflect on gaslighting and normalization, Reid Hoffman finds the opportunity amongst the danger, porochista khakpour bridges the political with the personal, while Tom Scocca wonders who will face the consequences.

In technology and industry, Sam Altman assesses our robot future, Ellen K. Pao urges us to not let history repeat itself, Lawrence Lessig takes stock of the setbacks for net neutrality this year, Siddhartha Mukherjee and Nathan Hubbard look at shifts in the medical and music industries, and Tim O'Reilly draws our attention to the fight for our attention.

Inspired by each essay, you’ll find an illustration that brings the word to life, created by a dynamic roster of amazing artists. Here’s a few of them:

The artwork inspired by Carmen Maria Machado, Roxane Gay, and Margaret E. Atwood’s essays.

You can browse the collection from the Words That Matter 2017 homepage, share your favorite essays and highlights using #WordsThatMatter2017, or write about the word that moved you most this year. And — finally — thank you for all the time you spent reading on Medium this year. After all, words have the most impact when someone is willing to listen.



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Sam Duboff

Sam Duboff


head of creator product marketing at spotify; former head of marketing at medium