2021: the year that was

Many things changed, yet I still review headphones. Looking back at what happened to me professionally across the year.

Desk set up with a laptop, coffee, and a notebook and pen
Photo by Nick Morrison / Unsplash

It's mid-January 2022, which means most people have already moved on from what was, globally, a tough 2021, where we collectively struggled through the second year of the pandemic. After avoiding the illness for so long, just at the tail end of the year, I got the 'rona.

It was... an experience. I have a chronic illness, so I was extremely nervous about the effect it'd have. Almost three weeks later, I'm seeing the back of the worst of it. But the sluggishness of that enforced downtime meant I didn't get to look back over the past 12 months.

So, a little late, but here's what happened for me in 2021.

It got off to a rough start. After cases and hospitalizations soared throughout December, England entered one of the most stringent lockdowns. It was a pretty bleak time. The upside to mandated isolation was that there was nothing to do but work.

As a US-focused tech writer, January is usually filled with all things CES. The Consumer Electronics Show usually takes place in Las Vegas across a few days but went wholly virtual this time around. Others have written about this more comprehensively, but the event wasn't great.

It was hard to navigate, find exciting products or businesses, and there was no sense of community at all. Despite this, I was proud of the coverage we produced at MakeUseOf. My highlights included:

The site had recently become part of the Valnet network, allowing us to experiment with the types of content we produced and the angles we took. This is how I got to write about Procter & Gamble's ambitious recycling project and the Right to Repair Association's Worst in Show awards.

After the flurry of news-focused posts, it was a bit of a relief to go back to business as usual. As MakeUseOf's Buyer's Guide editor, I worked with some of the site's excellent authors to publish comprehensive and informative buying advice, carving out niches and exploring off-center topics.

The editorial position also meant experimenting with where we might take our guides. Over the next few months, I focused on environmental concerns, adding a new section to the article template on repairability and even exploring a partnership with iFixit.

This is how I came to write a roundup of the best vegan headphones, examine whether electronics can ever really be vegan, and look at greenwashing in the tech industry. Sometimes, I couldn't avoid taking a stance on cryptocurrencies, like when I criticized Tesla's Bitcoin investment or got judgemental about Bitcoin's environmental impact.

I've lived tech journalism for over half a decade, and while I still think there are phenomenal developments, like Open Bionics' bionic limbs, by mid-2021, I was starting to lose passion for the tech industry. For the first time since I began writing professionally, I expanded my bylines and coverage.

After pitching Happiness.com, I got to write about living with chronic illness and my experience volunteering for Samaritans, a UK-based suicide prevention charity. I also combined tech writing and my medical condition when I reviewed the meditation app FreeMind for Spooniehacker.

Around this time, I had a short-lived involvement with Family Handyman, looking at monitored vs. unmonitored security systems and switching to a wireless home alarm. It seemed like a good idea to revamp my personal blog, and I found myself contemplating the future and how grateful I was for my morning coffee.

Inspired by how exciting it was to move my site to the Ghost platform, it seemed right to launch my UK-focused site HowToTech UK. This was a space for ideas I hadn't been able to get off the ground at MakeUseOf, like the cost of delivery apps, the tech monitoring London's air quality, and how to use the NHS app to access your COVID pass.

But there was another reason for finding another outlet for my tech writing; I got a new job! I'd been a self-employed freelancer since 2016 but made the (frankly brilliant) decision to join the publishing company Future plc as a Staff Writer for the health and fitness site Fit&Well.

I've written more for Fit&Well in the first few months than I had in the previous few years. It was a massive change of pace for me. Working 09:00 until 17:30 every day shook up my routine of pretty much doing what I wanted when I wanted. But it's been an exciting way to learn.

As much as I dislike self-praise, it was gratifying to see a handful of my news articles become some of the top-performing across the entire company. The first time this happened was when I published "this four-move bicep workout will help you build bigger, stronger arms."

But there were others like how Arnold Schwarzenegger is ditching weights in his workouts and "build bigger arms with this 15-minute dumbbell routine." It was daunting, but I challenged myself to take more risks, like when I got to ask rugby players George Kruis and Dom Day about CBD for muscle recovery.

As the end of the year approached, Black Friday offered the opportunity to learn how a large publishing company handles the retail event, and I worked in shifts across the weekend to maintain deals coverage for US timezones.

The intensity of those first five months has made me a better writer and more comfortable with different writing styles and techniques. I'd never written about celebrities before Fit&Well, but I was pleased with how my article about Keanu Reeves' Matrix training came out.

So much changed across the year, but some things stayed the same. I first reviewed headphones (the Bose QC35) back in 2016 and have become a bit of a magnet for this coverage style. 2021 was no different. For MakeUseOf, I reviewed the environmentally-minded House of Marley Liberate Air.

Despite working for a fitness website, I've also somehow ended up reviewing the Jabra Elite 7 Active, Skullcandy Push Active, Honor Earbuds 2 Lite, and Edifier Neobuds Pro. I'm sure 2022 will bring plenty more opportunities too.