Whilst human beings have conquered flight, walked on the moon and split the atom, they have yet to control the unstoppable march of time, which is currently racing towards another new year. When the clock strikes midnight on January 1 2020, we’ll not only bid farewell to 2019 but to the entire decade that was the 2010s.
Whilst years are often too granular and centuries too broad, decades seem a period of time that people love to categorise. The Swinging 60s was a time of counterculture and revolution in social norms, filled with dramatic events such as Vietnam and the multitude of political assassinations. The 70s brought Margaret Thatcher, Watergate and economic upheavals.
The 80s was a time of big hair and shoulder pads, not to mention historical moments such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Chernobyl disaster. Technology leapt forward in the 90s with the birth of the World Wide Web, whilst grunge and rave music spread around the globe. The Noughties saw the rise of the digital age, 9/11 and the subsequent War on Terror as well as the financial crisis that crippled economies across the world.
But how will the 2010s be remembered? What historical moments, political events and cultural creations will define the decade, not to mention what stereotypes future generations will have about these past ten years?
It often takes time and distance before a decade can be summarised within the history books but without such foresight, let us try and predict how the 2010s will be remembered.
When it comes to historical significance, no category quite defines a decade like politics and the 2010s were no exception. Many believe the past decade saw such a shift in the political landscape that politics itself was ‘broken’ during this period. Certainly, the past ten years have had more than their fair share of political upsets.
Few in 2010 would have predicted that come 2017 a man with no prior political experience would ascend to the Oval Office. No president in the history of the U.S. has been quite so divisive as Donald Trump. Love him or hate him his election to the top seat in American politics has been a defining moment of the decade.
Ever since the vote was cast in 2016, British politics and Brexit have been intertwined
The man who held that seat before Trump was himself historically significant – Barack Obama was the first African-American president and most of his tenure in the Oval Office was during the 2010s.
Coming in a close second after Trump when it comes to political upsets is Brexit - the moment the UK voted to leave the European Union. Ever since the vote was cast in 2016, British politics and Brexit have been intertwined. Although the UK has yet to complete Brexit, the future of British politics has been changed forever and the history books are sure to look back at the 2010s as the decade when it all started.
The decade could also be remembered for one of the driving forces behind these upsets, the rise in populism. Along with the U.S., populist governments have come to power in India, Brazil and Hungary as well as others during the past few years. A by-product has been the rise of far-right nationalism, including the alt-right movement (a far-right white nationalist movement), which has led to far-right parties gaining traction in many countries including Spain and Germany.
The 2010s also saw the emergence of China as a global superpower. Over the past decade, China has built up its infrastructure, increased its trade and expanded its military. Through its economic initiatives and reforms, China has asserted itself on the world stage, significantly increasing its power and influence.
How politics has been conducted has also changed during the 2010s due to the rise of social media. Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have become places for political debate. Social media has played a huge role in influencing political elections across the globe. Although the word ‘viral’ has its routes in the Noughties, the 2010s saw political issues go viral like never before. Donald Trump uses Twitter to address the world, something unthinkable in the prior decade.
However, with the rise of social media has come the emergence of ‘fake news’. Although fake news has existed in various forms for centuries, the Internet and social media have enabled it to spread like wildfire. Disseminating the truth from fake news has now become a part of daily life and some people believe it poses one of the greatest threats to democracy. If that's so, then future generations could well look back upon the 2010s as the decade fake news became the norm.
The decade also saw the passing of various important political leaders including Margaret Thatcher (Prime Minister from 1979-1990), Kim Jong-il (the Supreme Leader of North Korea), Nelson Mandela (the first black President of South Africa and Fidel Castro (Revolutionary leader and former President of Cuba). It also bore witness to the death of 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden and the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Although the digital age had begun by 2010, the following ten years would see the digital revolution explode across the globe. Perhaps the most significant contribution has been the smartphone. Although smartphones existed pre-2010 they hadn't yet conquered the world. During the past decade, smartphones have changed our lives beyond recognition.
They are now an essential part of everyday life, merging several important daily tasks into one single device. From dating apps to daily news consumption, people have been connected online like never, which has allowed social media to explode during the past decade, leading to a decline in traditional media. For good or bad, everyone has now been given a voice.
At the beginning of 2010, you could probably count the number of social media platforms on one hand, now there’s around 100. Going hand in hand with their growth has been the rise of the social influencer. Before 2010 it was practically unheard of for people to make a living off their social media presence but now thousands of people do.
Out of all the social platforms, Instagram has probably made the biggest shockwaves this past decade, growing to over a billion users worldwide and influencing modern behaviour and disrupting industries.
Could the decade be remembered though for the spread of virtual assistants such as Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa?
Speaking of market disruption, the online taxi service Uber has grown to over 110 million worldwide users during the past decade. Its global rise has not been without controversy but its success could not have been achieved without the smartphone revolution.
Virtual reality has taken a giant leap forward during the 2010s with headsets such as the Oculus Rift gaining popularity. Could the decade be remembered though for the spread of virtual assistants such as Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa?
Cloud computing has boomed during the 2010s, changing the nature of how organisations work, not to mention the way billions of people across the globe now store their personal information.
With that in mind, online privacy and data protection have become hot topics during the past few years. Many believe we'll look back on the 2010s as a kind of Wild West in this regard. Cyber-attacks have also sophisticated and grown alongside the availability and speed of the Internet.
The 2010s also saw the start of automation, with the introduction of the first driverless cars, drones and a multitude of self-service counters. Electric cars also became popular.
In the science world, the Higgs boson or 'God particle' was discovered during the 2010s and Elon Musk’s SpaceX took the space world by storm, demonstrating the power and impact of commercial space companies with many dubbing the 2010s as ‘The SpaceX Decade’.
Alongside politics, nothing quite sums up a decade like its culture.
In the fashion world hipster fashion, athleisure and a revival of austerity-era period pieces and skater fashions have defined the 2010s. The beard has become a popular trend along with the undercut hairstyle, whilst social media influencers, particularly those on Instagram, popularised and set the tone for new makeup trends.
Many would classify the 2010s as the decade of the meme. Meme culture has now become a staple part of people’s social media lives and during the past ten years, it has evolved from the simple image with text into more elaborate things like gifs and challenges. Who could forget the Ice Bucket Challenge of 2014 or the Mannequin Challenge of 2016?
With the increase in Internet speeds and data plans on mobile devices, fast streaming has become a reality for the masses.
In the movie world, the 2010s can only be described as the decade of the superhero movie, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe achieving massive success. Alongside the DC Universe, a total of nearly 50 superhero movies have been released in the past ten years.
It’s also been the decade of the remake era, especially for Disney, re-doing such classics such as Aladdin, The Lion King and The Jungle Book.
The way we consume television is almost unrecognisable from ten years ago. With the increase in Internet speeds and data plans on mobile devices, fast streaming has become a reality for the masses. Although Netflix was launched pre-2010, it only managed to assert its dominance this past decade, setting the trend that gave rise to a multitude of competing streaming services. Many call the 2010s the decade that linear broadcast television died.
In the gaming world, eSports became mainstream whilst micro-transactions became the norm. Several new consoles were released during the 2010s including the PS4 and Xbox One. Mobile gaming exploded leading to popular games such as Pokémon Go, which utilised augmented reality technology.
No game quite sums up the latter part of the decade like Fortnite though, with some even declaring it the most important game of the past ten years and suggesting its format has become the future of gaming.
In music, musicians such as Beyonce, Kanye West, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran were the decade’s global superstars. The music landscape itself is vastly different from 2009, with CD sales irrelevant now and unique streams and downloads being the new benchmark.
Along with television, music has witnessed the rise of streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music over the past decade. Those services now generate the lion’s share of the music industry’s revenue, a drastic change from the previous decade.
As for genre's, the 2010s was the decade of hip-hop as it dominated sales and outsold rock music for the first time. Soundcloud, the free audio publishing site and the social media platform Tik Tok all helped propel hip-hop to its new lofty position.
The decade also saw the globalisation of pop with K-pop and Latin music moving into the global mainstream.
Conflict & Disasters
Sadly it wasn’t a quiet decade for this category.
Terror attacks shook the world on many occasions, including the 2013 Boston Bombings and Kenyan Westgate shopping centre attack, the Paris attacks in 2015, the Brussel Bombings in 2016, the London Bridge attack in 2017 and the Istanbul nightclub shooting of the same year.
The Arab Spring during the early part of the decade had a massive impact on the rest of the 2010s. It led to the Syrian, Yemeni and Libyan Civil Wars, the rise and subsequent fall of the so-called Islamic State. A refugee crisis ensued and will continue into the following decade.
Russia annexed Crimea and the world was reminded of the threat of nuclear war as America and North Korea traded insults.
In America, mass shootings tragically became all too common and the decade bore witness to the deadliest one in the history of the U.S. when a man opened fire on a crowd of people at a 2017 Las Vegas concert.
Everything changed in the 2010s and once again social media played a huge role.
Natural disasters included the 2010 Haiti earthquake, which led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, and Hurricane Sandy, which caused over 200 deaths and nearly $70 billion in damages.
Health endemics included the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa, which caused over 11,000 deaths between 2013-2016, and the Zika virus epidemic of 2015-2016.
Everything changed in the 2010s and once again social media played a huge role.
It facilitated various movements during the past decade including the #MeToo movement, which has given rise to debates about gender equality and sexual harassment. It has also given rise to the ‘call-out’ or ‘cancel culture’ of recent times in which a person or business is publically shamed on social media for committing offences or behaving badly.
Social attitudes towards LGBTQ rights have also taken a positive leap forward in the past ten years. Gay marriage and marijuana have also seen legalisation in several places across the globe. The 2010s also saw the rise of vaping, with e-cigarettes becoming a common sight across the world.
Internet and social media also gave a platform to the anti-vaccination or anti-vax movement, which gained in popularity and spread worldwide in the 2010s.
The international non-profit organisation WikiLeaks, founded by Julian Assange, gained international attention during the 2010s, publishing classified documents and information on several global topics including the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, Guantanamo Bay and the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. In 2013, another whistleblower Edward Snowden, leaked classified information from the NSA, exposing numerous U.S. global spy programs. The information leaks of the past decade have led to political and social changes in a variety of subjects across the globe.
Last but very much not least has been the emergence of environmental activism. Although global warming was highlighted during the 2000s, it seems that it took until the 2010s before people started to listen. Climate change has been argued to be the single most critical issue that we face and in response, the world has seen new legislation come into force as well as a multitude of global initiatives.
However, many feel that not enough is being done and protests against government inaction have been seen across the globe. Future generations might look back at this decade as the time of missed opportunity, a time when things could have been changed but not enough was done.
Pollution has also been a hot topic of the latter years of the decade, with measures having been brought it to start tackling the issue of plastic waste.