As if we required further evidence that social media exists outside time, space and reality, the latest big meme, #10YearChallenge, or #2008vs2018, has users posting side-by-side photographs of themselves from 10 years ago and the present. Which is to say, in the parlance of hashtags, every day since at least Saturday has been #ThrowbackThursday.
Like most memes, this one appears to have evolved from ancestral strains dating back at least to 2016, but something about the year 2008 seems to have struck a particular chord of nostalgia. Given that the year was such a watershed moment in U.S. history, and seeing as your intrepid correspondent will not personally be accepting the challenge, we put together a few entries on behalf of America. (Some users are also posting about #2009vs2019, but with only a few weeks worth of the year to draw upon, we’re taking a look back at last year.)
While many users have expressed horror at the forces of time’s corruption, and others have humbly identified their “glow-up,” America ages quite differently from the rest of us. Few people presumably yearn for the darkest days of the recession, but Americans do have a penchant for elevating the past. During the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, I spent some time on the floor asking delegates in which year they thought America reached peak “Greatness,” and the answers ranged from around 1950 to the end of the Reagan Administration. A TIME survey found that Republicans most yearn for 1985, while Democrats thought that 2016 was just fine.
When it comes to the economy, which rapidly went to pieces in the summer and fall of 2008 after a long period of approaching crisis, there are hundreds of indicators one could use to paint the picture from different angles. We chose the Consumer Price Index for urban consumers — a measure of inflation based on the price of goods and services like housing and medical expenses — because it reacts quickly as the national economic mood darkens or recovers. When the economy is in bad shape, consumers tend to quickly reduce spending and delay purchases, causing the index to temporarily drop and then slowly recover.
For overseas troop deployments, the best source of information is the Defense Manpower Data Center, which publishes quarterly reports on the numbers of active-duty service members and civilian personnel both at home and abroad. The figures for 2018 may be slightly off because, since the beginning of last year, the Department of Defense stopped reporting figures for Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. The figures here are from September of 2017.
Now that Facebook is a publicly traded company, it reports its number of “Monthly Active Users” in its quarterly filings to the SEC. Given that it was still privately held in 2008, the figures used above come from press releases.
Photo credits: Obama: Orjan F. Ellingvag/Dagbladet/Corbis via Getty Images, Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images; Trump: Brad Barket/Getty Images, Scott Olson/Getty Images; Brady: Harry How/Getty Images, Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.