Six different ways that Americans experience the news

At least we’re united in being crazy

Tim Wu
6 min readDec 9, 2020


Do you see Donald Trump or Nancy Pelosi?

As everyone knows, the United States is divided, yielding completely different interpretations of the same news items. The usual presumption is that the divide is between red minds and blue, conservatives and liberals.

I beg to disagree. As a strangely obsessed reader of wacky newspaper comments, online forums and insane twitter commentary across the political spectrum, I’ve begun to think the issue is just a bit more complicated.

My highly informal research suggests, instead, that the U.S. is dominated by six different meta-narratives that don’t neatly correlate to party lines or political ideology. Here they are:

  1. Things Are Getting Better All the Time

The other day, on Twitter, I lamented the fact that Zoom isn’t so great for actually talking with other people. Someone jumped up to accuse me, essentially, of lacking in gratitude for Silicon Valley magic.

Behind that comment I sensed a deep and quite common belief: while there may be setbacks now and then, we need always recognize that Things Are Getting Better All the Time. Even if imperfect, a Zoom session really must therefore be regarded as an improvement over, say, merely talking to someone on the telephone.

This worldview is very common among tech types, Davos attendees and some public health gurus, who note that we live longer and fewer diseases than Qing dynasty Chinese peasants. Steven Pinker serves as a kind of a patron saint. Hans Rosling (author of a book with the subtitle Why Things Are Better Than You Think) is another apostle.

So even if you feel rotten you should actually be happier than any other time in human history, because there is plenty to eat and you are unlikely to die of smallpox. You can also keep track of your friends’ vacations on instagram. In other words, it is all your fault.

Unfortunately, 2020 has been a pretty tough year for the upward spiral types. Positive thinkers are reduced to dwelling on things like their investments in Amazon and Georgia’s conversion to a swing state. Steven Pinker notes that at least global terrorism is way down.



Tim Wu

Professor at Columbia University; author of “The Curse of Bigness,” “The Attention Merchants,” and “The Master Switch;” veteran of Silicon Valley & Obama Admin.