At Rest of World, we publish stories on the impacts of technology in places outside of the Western bubble — but we can’t be everywhere at once. Here are some pieces from other publications that stood out to us in 2021. Some offer insight into the biggest themes of the year, from the ongoing effects of the Covid-19 pandemic to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, while others highlight undercovered moments and intriguing tales from around the world. Our admiration and respect to all involved.

“They couldn’t go outside for years. Then Covid-19 trapped them again”

by Ann Babe, Wired U.K.

Covid-19 lockdowns hit many people hard, but the effects were particularly nuanced for South Korea’s ‘hikikomori’ — individuals who choose to shut themselves away from the world. In this piece, Ann Babe meets people who have been slowly working up the courage to reenter society only to find themselves forced to isolate once again. It’s a timely and human exploration of a social and psychological phenomenon that experts know little about. – Vicki Turk, Features director 

“Sci-fi writer or prophet? The hyperreal life of Chen Qiufan”

by Yi-Ling Liu, Wired

Even before the coronavirus pandemic cast a surreal pall across the globe, the daily realities of life in China had taken on an edge of what Chinese science fiction writer Chen Qiufan calls the “hyperreal” — “a zone where the fantastical and factual are so blurred, it is unclear where one begins and one ends,” as Rest of World contributor Yi-Ling Liu describes it. Liu weaves a sense of the hyperreal into this piece that is at once a profile of Chen and an examination of the world of contemporary Chinese science fiction that he inhabits. – Meaghan Tobin, reporter 

“Secret chats show how cybergang became a ransomware powerhouse”

by Andrew E. Kramer, Michael Schwirtz and Anton Troianovski, The New York Times

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Sergey Ponomarev/The New York Times/Redux

Cybercrime can often feel like an abstract affair — faceless hackers and anonymous victims, and all of it taking place somewhere deep in the digital ether. The access in this piece is remarkable, and the resulting story gives you the sense of being right there in the room as the Russian DarkSide syndicate negotiates the ransomware extortion of a relatively small, family-owned publishing company in the Midwest. This is a great example of how cybercrime reporting should be done. – Michael Zelenko, deputy editor

“Work hard, meme harder: How Indonesians are coping with startup hustle culture”

by Nadine Freischlad and Yunindita Prasidya, The Ken

This piece captures Indonesia’s shifting startup culture with a simple yet curious observation on joke and meme accounts most wouldn’t think twice about. It’s a lighter piece that’s also thoughtful — you get to see how highly paid, white-collar employees begin to realize that they, too, are being exploited. It ends with an imagined future, filled with progressive discourses on Indonesian tech. To me, that looks like workers — gig and employed — united. – Antonia Timmerman, contributing writer 

“They’re trying to save lives in India. YouTube says their videos are dangerouss”

by Shamani Joshi, Vice

India’s health care system was brought to its knees in March when the second wave of Covid-19 hit the country. As millions of people struggled to access basic health care amenities, the internet was a savior for many who were able to find medicines and hospital beds through social media posts. This piece captures the way in which people fought back, going so far as to attempt to make oxygen at home. But while social media platforms helped many, there were some who were duped or misled. In that context, this story highlights why Big Tech companies need to be held responsible. – Itika Sharma Punit, South Asia editor

“Why the Mexico City Metro collapsed”

by Natalie Kitroeff, Maria Abi-Habib, James Glanz, Oscar Lopez, Weiyi Cai, Evan Grothjan, Miles Peyton and Alejandro Cegarra, The New York Times

Alejandro Cegarra/The New York Times/Redux

Detailed, document-heavy reporting and shocking graphics spliced together in several weeks after the tragic — and avoidable — collapse of the Mexico City Metro in May make this a compelling piece of journalism. How much blame is assigned to the different actors responsible for the collapse remains a hotly debated topic as the country begins to gear up for the Mexican presidential elections, and this piece effectively breaks down some of the contributing factors. – Alex González Ormerod, Latin America editor

‘We are very free’: How China spreads its propaganda version of life in Xinjiang”

by Jeff Kao, Raymond Zhong, Paul Mozur, Aliza Aufrichtig, Nailah Morgan and Aaron Krolik, The New York Times and ProPublica

Few stories this year were able to capture the scale of a social media propaganda campaign in such clarifying detail. This investigation from The New York Times and ProPublica maps out an ecosystem of over 3,000 videos produced by Chinese authorities to shape global opinion of Xinjiang. Alongside the immersive article design, the story is told through the lived experience of a Uyghur exile who sees and hears the voice of her family members for the first time in years in the propaganda clips. – Andrew Deck, reporter

“China’s tech workers pushed to limits by surveillance software”

by Nikki Sun, Nikkei

White-collar workers at Chinese companies are increasingly being tracked by their bosses, using systems that monitor their attendance, productivity, and internet usage. This is an eye-level piece that captures the psychological toll of constant workplace surveillance and how the banal, mechanical collection of data for the purposes of efficiency creeps inexorably toward management by algorithm. And as the stress ratchets up, you can’t even search for another role — if you look at a job listing elsewhere, the company knows. – Peter Guest, Enterprise editor

“Countdown to the airstrike: the moment Israeli forces hit al-Jalaa tower, Gaza”

by Kaamil Ahmed, Joe Dyke, Anas Baba and Garry Blight, The Guardian

Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto/Getty Images

The Guardian carefully reconstructs the day that al-Jalaa tower in Gaza City was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike. Told through the life stories, photos, and audio of the families that called the tower home, this report offers a final snapshot of a single place, in the 11-day war that claimed the lives of at least 256 Palestinians. – Cengiz Yar, photo editor

“The truth behind the Amazon mystery seeds”

by Chris Heath, The Atlantic

Reading this story is pleasantly unpredictable — I felt complicit in being led down several garden paths (pun unintended). It begins with a deluge of seeds landing on the doorsteps of Westerners and ends up a mirror to our own failing memories, prejudices, and imperfect understanding of the tech platforms we rely on. – Sarah Hilton, Asia editor

“The other Afghan women”

by Anand Gopal, The New Yorker

When the Taliban took control of Kabul in August, Western commentators speculated hard about how life in Afghanistan would change under their rule. Anand Gopal’s piece, which is deeply rooted in the geography of his reporting, vividly described and sensitively written, tells the story of women who already live under the Taliban, in their own voices. – Peter Guest, Enterprise editor

“I was on Tinder in Israel. I swiped right on a man in Palestine”

by Yona Golding, Wired

This piece is full of textured details that kept me gripped as the storytelling unfolded. It’s a first-person essay on the ​​absurdity of segregation in a digitally interconnected world that is well worth the read. – Devi Lockwood, Ideas editor

“Anyone seen Tether’s billions?”

by Zeke Faux, Bloomberg Businessweek

Untangling the workings of the cryptoverse, both the highly technical and the scammy alike, can be so absorbing that you forget to ask basic questions about how we got here in the first place. This piece asks “What’s up with Tether?” — the stablecoin supposedly backed by real U.S. dollars that anchors global crypto trading. Answering this almost-too-obvious question takes you around the world. – Meaghan Tobin, reporter

“Long arm of Russian law reaches obscure Siberian church”

by Valerie Hopkins,The New York Times

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Mary Gelman/The New York Times/Redux

Russia’s ongoing crackdown on sects and nonconformist systems of beliefs is, in itself, a fascinating chapter in the country’s evolving relationship to organized religion. But this story offers something more: a window into a remarkable community with a cinematic degree of detail, texture, and character. Mary Gelman’s photography is haunting, and offers a perfect complement to the reporting. – Michael Zelenko, deputy editor

“The lie of nation building”

by Fintan O’Toole, The New York Review

As America’s longest war ended in the embarrassing collapse of the Afghan government and botched evacuation efforts, spectators on all sides weighed in on what went wrong and how. Few truly displayed the rotten core of the U.S.’ failures quite so distinctly as Fintan O’Toole. Tactfully dissecting this national hubris, O’Toole argues that the 20 years of failures were less due to poor planning and more a mirror on the U.S. ethos. – Cengiz Yar, photo editor

Succession drama grips Scholastic: CEO’s sudden death, an office romance and a surprise will”

by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg and Shalini Ramachandran, The Wall Street Journal

When the CEO of the publisher of the Harry Potter novels died, he passed on control of the company not to his children, his siblings, or ex-wife but to an outsider — the company’s chief strategy officer. The author does a fine job of helping readers understand each character’s relationship with the CEO and, subtly, why his choice wasn’t a surprise. – Abubakar Idris, reporter

“A $30 billion fortune is hiding in China’s Silicon Valley”

by Bloomberg News

This is a story that reveals the flipside tale of Shenzhen’s tech success — and a comparably prosperous one at that. It’s an inside look at how canny landowners banded together to amass billions from real estate and serves as evidence that one doesn’t actually have to be involved in China’s tech boom to profit from it. – Sarah Hilton, Asia editor

Sex ed, one Instagram post at a time

by Mona El-Naggar and Sara Aridi, The New York Times

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Heba Khamis/The New York Times/Redux

This is tech and culture storytelling at its best, distilling the ways in which social media is used currently to fill gaps in sex education in the Middle East. It provides a wide-reaching background on the issue but is a successful read because it focuses so directly on specific stories, both of the creators and of the people who view the sex ed content. – Devi Lockwood, Ideas editor

How Facebook and Google fund global misinformationn”

by Karen Hao, MIT Tech Review

This story will probably appear on nearly every jealousy list this year — and with good reason. Karen Hao takes the reader on a meticulously documented journey through the channels that clickbait sites use to monetize misinformation through Google and Facebook’s own systems. What makes the story so compelling, aside from its excellent use of visuals, is the amount of data Hao managed to collect — both current and historical — that illustrates the scope of the issue in Myanmar alone. – Vittoria Elliott, reporter

Life of Muri”

by Fu’ad Lawal, Vistanium

This is a beautiful story about the sad life of Muri, a drug smuggler, addict, and troublemaker whose life turned upside down after an unfortunate incident at a chemistry lab at a young age. The author captures the impact of this incident and how Muri’s life (and death) affected those around him. – Abubakar Idris, reporter

“Pakistan’s biometric ID scheme is stripping citizenship from thousands of people”

by Alizeh Kohari, Coda

As governments around the world implement biometric identification programs, digital rights activists warn of privacy violations and exclusion. This wide-ranging piece by Rest of World contributor Alizeh Kohari should be their central exhibit — an excoriating account of Pakistan’s ill-fated attempt to institute such a system and the people’s lives upended in its wake. – Leo Schwartz, reporter

“Los menonitas de Bacalar”

by Ricardo Hernández Ruiz, Gatopardo

Tech has helped us become hyperaware of climate change. Some say tech will even save us from the coming crisis. But, what happens when you take technology out of the equation? This stunning report details the lives of the Mennonites living in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, a virtually flat stretch of land lying at sea level and surrounded by ocean. It documents how a community isolated from the global news cycle deals with — and contributes to — environmental deterioration. – Alex González Ormerod, Latin America editor

“The secretive prisons that keep migrants out of Europe”

by Ian Urbina, The New Yorker

For much of the past decade, the Mediterranean has been the site of an ongoing tragedy. Hundreds of migrants have drowned as they try to make the For much of the past decade, the Mediterranean has been the site of an ongoing tragedy. Hundreds of migrants have drowned as they try to make the crossing from North Africa to Europe, the victims of conflict, desperation, and criminal gangs. Faced with a humanitarian catastrophe and unsustainable political tensions, European governments have outsourced the problem, funding and supporting southern states to try to stop migrants making the last leg of the journey. Ian Urbina’s reporting, from the prisons to the seats of power, unpacks the compromises made to move the crisis offshore and the human consequences of this decision. – Peter Guest, Enterprise editor

“Out of thin air: the mystery of the man who fell from the sky”

by Sirin Kale, The Guardian

Sirin Kale’s ‘Lost to the virus’ Guardian series commemorates victims of the Covid-19 pandemic with great sensitivity while simultaneously investigating the social failures that may have played a role in their deaths. In this feature, she applies the same mix of compassion and scrutiny to the story of another lost soul: a stowaway who fell to his death from the wheel well of a plane flying from Nairobi to London in 2019. Who was the man? And what drove him to make such a desperately dangerous journey? Kale takes us through the police investigation and explores the broader history of stowaways, but concludes with the reminder that, though this case may have grabbed headlines, the man is just one of many migrants who risk deadly journeys in the hope of a better life. – Victoria Turk, Features director