A Look-back at The Past Decade- 9 mins
The 2010s were the first decade that I observed as an adult with memories of pretty much all the major events in the period. I started the decade by barely passing High School, then failing twice in College, then again barely graduating from University (still don’t know how I pulled that off), did some freelancing during that period, got hired during the grad year and from there, continued on the career path in Computer Science. I’d say it all turned out just fine. [Alhamdulillah!]
Now, I only write technical stuff on this blog but because there was so much to say (and vent), that I decided to write a blog post here about my sentiments regarding the past 10 years. [Which no one will read just like the technical ones, but hey! at least I can flex that I “write”, even if it is crap].
There was so much for everyone in these last 10 years, filled with events, some great while others were pretty disappointing. From world politics going berserk to Flat-Earthers and Anti-Vaxxers becoming a serious problem. Elon Musk becoming a geek icon to the rise of ultimate cringe platform Tik Tok. Marvel and DC’s cinematic universe becoming a global hit to utterly garbage GoT finale (big fat “fuck you” to friends who bullied me into watching it). Pakistan winning 2017 Cricket Champions Trophy to nail bitter at the 2019 World Cup Final. YouTubers becoming celebrities to well-known celebrities joining YouTube, doing weird stunts to gain subscribers. SO MUCH HAPPENED!
The following are some of the key phenomenons, that I believe to have truly changed our world in the most literal sense in the last 10 years.
Although smartphones had already become fairly popular by the end of the last decade. The 2010s were the period where the true potential of smartphones was discovered. The Android OS greatly helped mobile phone vendors make smartphones accessible to everyone. This, combined with the rise of affordable 3G/4G internet, propelled the tech industry into a completely new era where everything is mobile-first. From transportation to cashless payments, there is an app for everything now.
While the extension of budget smartphones and cheap internet to remote areas opened the rural population to new opportunities. It also introduced a culture of “gig economy” worldwide. With every passing year, the notion of traditional “career” is fading away. More and more people are opting for self-employment lifestyle due to the freedom and endless opportunities it brings.
Unchecked Social Media Marked The Beginning Of Post Truth Era
One of the biggest beneficiaries of the smartphone revolution was social media. While in the earlier days you needed to sit in front of a laptop to go online, social media apps gave you the ability to go live instantly to share your life with others.
With social media becoming increasingly popular and accessible, companies behind them started looking to maximize the attention spans of their users (ergo more ad views, ergo more profit). This led to social media taking an unexpected turn towards a dystopian future, which to some extent, was once predicted by the Black Mirror.
All the companies started opting for algorithms that sort your feed based on your preferences to increase engagement. Inevitably, everyone ended up living in their small bubble of reality where everything is just as they like it. Not only that all major social networks ended up adapting to the tailored content model, but these services also helped them connect to “like-minded” folks pushing the world towards extreme polarization. Today, we have internet communities for literally everything. Good, bad and evil. No matter how niche it is. Do you like stapling bread to trees? There is a community for it. Or do you hate squirrels? Well, there is also a community for it.
The result is a world where everyone feels that the other side is evil. Where people care less about the argument and more about who it is coming from. As if the other side can never be right. Where everyone can find click bait articles to support their argument, essentially shaping a world where opinions are worth as much as facts. Where everyone is offended by everything.
The byproduct of this phenomenon is a culture of popularity, breeding an epidemic of depression and feeling of dissatisfaction. Now everyone is using these tools as a canvas to paint their own reality. You open any social media app and see everyone living an absolute dream, while you are binge-watching the 5th episode of that Netflix series after your boring 9-5 job. If you are not paying attention, it is really easy to fall prey to this contagious inferiority complex.
AI/Machine Learning Went Beyond The Hype
Ever thought why the Spotify recommendations are so spot-on? Or why you always find something on the YouTube front page that distracts you from whatever you intended to look for? Or why Facebook shows weird ads to you?
Those are recommendation algorithms at works. While earlier versions were simple heuristics-based. Most of the modern ones (the likes of Amazon, Spotify, YouTube, Netflix, etc.) depend on Machine Learning, a sub-branch of AI.
Thanks to the resurgence of AI research and increasing computing power. The field of AI finally came out of science-fiction. For the first, time an average citizen felt its impact in their everyday life. Self-driving cars promised a safer future for transportation while ML-powered systems exponentially improved the accuracy of medical diagnosis.
Selective Humanitarianism On Global Stage
Selective Humanitarianism (read hypocrisy) on State level became a norm. One might think that the traditional way of ruling and diplomacy would change, now that we have digital media constantly monitoring every move of every prominent figure. Yet, all major countries in the world continued to shamelessly support and condemn global events based on their prospects out of the situation.
For example, US is fighting for the rights of HK but is an active enabler of KSA, Pakistan cries 24/7 over Kashmir but turns a blind eye to Uyghur and Myanmar, Europe mostly follows the same line as the US, condemning HK while being heavily involved in the Middle East, while China doesn’t give a fuck about anyone’s opinion and there is no one to hold them accountable.
This cherry-picking has essentially maintained a status quo where everyone is trying to score brownie points from their followers while doing absolutely nothing to change the situation.
Return of Authoritarian Regimes
Arguably the most bizarre, unexpected, unpredictable thing to come out of the 2010s was the rise of far-right (not your average right-wing) political powers. From Trump getting elected to Brexit saga. Again, attributed to the political meddling by social media giants, people made absurd choices that your average analysts could never have predicted. It is probably safe to say that social media broke the democracy, or exposed its major flaws, to say the least.
Every election since 2013 has seen authoritarian figures getting elected world wide. From Trump to Putin, Bolsonaro to Modi and Erdogan to Boris. People around the world voted for conservative personalities with ultra-nationalistic (outright fascist in some cases) ideas over other ideologies, making some fear for the future of democracy.
World Felt The First Jolts Of Environmental Threats
Fortunately, the world did not end in 2012. However, the destruction caused by the change in the global climate made it clear that we do not have enough time. While most South-Asian countries were observing regular heat-waves since the start of the 2010s, with the 2015 one alone killing around 2000 people in Pakistan. July of 2019 proved to be the hottest month ever in the recorded history, with major European countries observing day temperatures around 40C. Other major events include rise in sea levels, large collapses of arctic ice sheets, extreme storms and increasing number of wildfires all around the globe, this year’s Amazonian and Australian being the most prominent ones.
Up until now, climate change was a topic limited to either scientists or a small section of youth. However, the past decade gave clear warning signs about how serious the problem is. This year, the United Nations made Climate Change the theme of its annual summit.
Due to raising awareness, a lot of significant practical initiatives were also started. The most prominent one was the climate activism movement started by young teenager Greta Thunberg making her an international symbol of climate change awareness. Another prominent such initiative, and one I am particularly proud of is the 2014s Billion Tree Tsunami campaign by the Government of Pakistan. The campaign saw plantation of 1 billion trees in one of the four provinces of the country. The campaign was extended to a 5 year long, country-wide 10 Billion goal after its completion in 2018. Another ongoing movement is by Mr Beast , a popular YouTuber where the community is doing a fundraiser to plant 20 Million trees before 2020.
So this was a brain dump about how I see things at the end of 2019. However, these are personal views, which are heavily influenced by the subjects I care about the most. Therefore, there is a high chance this list may not include some other important items.
While I intended to keep this post non-technical, I feel it is inevitable to talk about today’s world without technology. Being associated with the field, I feel that science and technology have really made leaps in the last 10 years and it has really improved the quality of life for most of us.
Though just like any other tool, these are also being used for negative forces too. Data breaches, unauthorized collection and use of private data, mass surveillance, use of chemical weapons, use of social media as a tool of propaganda are only a few prominent examples.
Let’s hope that the coming decade brings happiness, prosperity and a general improvement to our world. Finally, a very Happy New Year!