Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates has led by any measure a highly eventful life – but says no year was more “difficult” or “unusual” than 2021.
The world’s No 4 richest person, worth nearly $139 billion, according to Forbes estimates, opened up about his personal struggles – including his headline-making divorce from Melinda French Gates – in a year-in-review post published on Tuesday to his blog, GatesNotes.
The typically upbeat Gates struck a somber tone in his lengthy annual post, describing 2021 as “an incredibly hard year for many people, including me.”
While admitting he’d rather focus on his work over the past year, Gates recognised the national curiosity around his divorce, which was announced suddenly in May after 27 years of marriage, and offered some insight into his feelings since.
“Melinda and I continue to run our foundation together and have found a good new working rhythm,” Gates wrote of the pair’s continued work with their nonprofit, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “But I can’t deny that it’s been a year of great personal sadness for me. Adapting to change is never easy, no matter what it is.”
One of the biggest changes has been spending “stretches of time without any face-to-face interactions,” said Gates, describing himself as an “empty-nester” thanks to the departures of his two youngest children, Phoebe and Rory. His third child, Jenn, recently married equestrian Nayel Nasser in an event Gates deemed “the highlight of [his] year.”
Though “the house is a lot quieter without a bunch of teenagers hanging around” and it’s easier to focus on doing work or reading a book (a favourite hobby of his), Gates said he misses having his children around. “It’s a strange and disorienting experience,” he wrote. “My personal world has never felt smaller than it did over the last twelve months.”
All in all, it was a year of “big transitions” for the Microsoft billionaire, but that was far from the only thing on his mind. Gates said he spent a lot of time thinking about the long-term impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, including what he fears to be a dangerous decline in people’s trust in public institutions, a trend he attributed in part to the lack of regulation of social media platforms and the spread of disinformation.
“Based on what I’ve seen over the last couple of years, I’m more worried than I’ve ever been about the ability of governments to get big things done,” Gates wrote, adding that he is particularly concerned because of the need for governments to take action on challenges like avoiding a climate disaster or preventing the next pandemic. The billionaire, who is writing a book on pandemic preparedness, said this topic is the “biggest and most important thing I’m working on in 2022.”
On a more positive note, Gates expressed optimism and excitement about technological advancements sparked by the pandemic that he thinks have the potential to revolutionize healthcare, education and office work. For example, Gates said he expects most work meetings will be taking place within the metaverse using 3D digital avatars within the next two or three years.
“As unbelievable as it sounds, we’re only starting to see how digitization is going to change our lives,” he wrote. “There is so much potential for technology to create more flexibility and options for people.”
As for when coronavirus-related disruptions may end, Gates predicted the “acute phase” of the pandemic will come to a close “some time in 2022.” He recognized the newly emerging Omicron variant as “concerning,” but said “the world is better prepared to tackle potentially bad variants than at any other point in the pandemic so far.” In the future, Gates said he expects communities to see occasional outbreaks. However, “new drugs will be able to take care of most cases and hospitals will be able to handle the rest.”