And you've had a good decade
Every year since Charles Lindbergh landed on the cover of TIME as 1927’s Man of the Year, the magazine’s editors have named a Person of the Year, that individual—or idea, or group—who has most influenced the year’s news, for better or worse.
Ten years ago, however, TIME chose not to put a famous person on the cover of the annual Person of the Year issue. Instead, they placed an order for 6,965,000 pieces of reflective material so that you—yes, you!— could be on the cover.
As then-Managing Editor Richard Stengel explained, the choice (and the attendant cover design) was a result of the recognition that, largely thanks to the power of the Internet, individuals were wielding power in new and dramatic ways:
From user-generated images of Baghdad strife and the London Underground bombing to the macaca moment that might have altered the midterm elections to the hundreds of thousands of individual outpourings of hope and poetry and self-absorption, this new global nervous system is changing the way we perceive the world. And the consequences of it all are both hard to know and impossible to overestimate.
There are lots of people in my line of work who believe that this phenomenon is dangerous because it undermines the traditional authority of media institutions like TIME. Some have called it an “amateur hour.” And it often is. But America was founded by amateurs. The framers were professional lawyers and military men and bankers, but they were amateur politicians, and that’s the way they thought it should be. Thomas Paine was in effect the first blogger, and Ben Franklin was essentially loading his persona into the MySpace of the 18th century, Poor Richard’s Almanack. The new media age of Web 2.0 is threatening only if you believe that an excess of democracy is the road to anarchy. I don’t.
So it should have been no surprise that you—TIME’s readers—took the chance to respond to the choice.
In letters to the editor, many readers expressed the idea that the choice was a “well-deserved recognition” for Internet users. But many others thought the selection was a cop-out. An Austin, Texas, reader’s reaction to seeing “You” on the cover was “Ewww. It’s sad that a once important cultural touchstone has devolved into the equivalent of everyone-gets-a-trophy day at summer camp.” A Manhattan Beach, Calif., reader argued that the choice “completely missed the real power of the Internet,” suggesting a better pick to reflect the power of the Internet would have been Craigslist founder Craig Newmark for creating a website that caters to “the real stuff of daily life.”
The cover has endured as a joke—for example, one Reddit user wondered aloud whether it was worth mentioning in a cover letter—but the logic behind the choice has more than endured. People who share images, videos, ideas and even fake news have been driving the news cycle in innovative ways for the past 10 years and will likely continue to do so for years to come.
In other words, you have taken to heart the ideas expressed by one Stamford, Conn., reader all the way back in 2006:
It’s not the pundits from the press, cable or radio freak shows, not the politicians or bureaucrats, not even the business fat cats who influence the politicians. It’s us—the taxpayers, consumers, employees and workers—who make this country tick. Wake up, America! You are in control. So take advantage of it.