December 23, 2019
With only a matter of days left until we say farewell to the twenty tens and hello to the far more sci-fi sounding 2020s, it’s time for a recap of the technological highs, lows and OMG moments and trends that have shaped the past decade.
Disclaimer: distilling a full decade of tech news down into a single blog post is something of a fool’s errand, so I’m giving this a personal slant, and detailing those events that impacted me personally and as a tech PR professional in the UK.
So, without further ado, here are the major technology innovations and events that I feel shaped the tech landscape over the past ten years.
Everyone gets a smartphone
Although the original iPhone was released in 2007, I’d argue that both Apple and Android flavoured handsets were luxury items for at least a handful of years. Smartphone ubiquity, and the impact they’ve had on our lives, is a trend belonging to this past decade.
If you take the time to think about it, the myriad ways in which the smartphone has affected our day-to-day lives is astonishing, almost a little scary (speaking as someone born in the late eighties). Everything from how we order food, how we communicate with friends and family (who calls when you can IM?), how we navigate the world around us, consume news and media, where and how we work, and even how we find love is carried out through a device in our pocket.
The reach of the smartphone is so great that it’s even been shown to alter our brain chemistry. Debates around whether the smartphone is a net good or bad for society will likely carry on for years to come, but they started in the 2010s.
TalkTalk’s data breach crisis
The TalkTalk data breach of late 2015 is an important reminder that, although proper crisis messaging can’t make a bad event disappear entirely, it needs to prevent a crisis spiralling out of control.
In 2015, the British public weren’t so used to news of data breaches. The risk of widespread panic was high and the messaging from TalkTalk, and the company’s then CEO Baroness Dido Harding, needed to assuage fears, avoid panic and give the public confidence that the company was on top of the problem. Harding was sent out to media as soon as possible after the attack but was under-briefed. Unable to answer key questions about the severity of the breach and the actions the company was taking to remediate the issues, TalkTalk lost control of the story and the negative headlines spread.
It’s a fast-paced media landscape, and there’s both regulatory and public pressure to report on breaches quickly, but it should be done with a robust crisis comms plan in place. The spate of data breach stories over the decade will have pushed a lot of companies to get their crisis comms in order.
Blockchain and the changing face of cryptocurrency
Cryptocurrencies and the blockchain (the underlying technology which powers cryptocurrency exchange), have had a tumultuous ten years. Although the most well-known cryptocurrency, bitcoin, technically started its life in 2009, public awareness of crypto, new currencies such as Monero and Ethereum, the widespread mining craze that unhelpfully pushed up the price of graphics cards (a personal sore spot), and the wildly fluctuating values of cryptocurrencies were undoubtedly a feature of the last ten years.
Cryptocurrencies have had something of a redemption arc. In the early 2010s, bitcoin was associated with black markets operating on the dark web. As such, bitcoin became associated with illegal narcotics, weapons and a host of other shady products and activities.
Fast forward to today, and the story is very different. Earlier this year, veteran investor and cofounder of Mobius Capital Partners, Mark Mobius, said bitcoin will be "alive and well" in the future, despite calling it a “real fraud” just a year prior. Even more recently, the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) announced it is exploring building a cryptocurrency trading platform for both investments and in-store/online purchases. Facebook wants to create its own cryptocurrency, Libra. In short, cryptocurrency is being taken very seriously by people with very deep pockets.
I can’t talk about cryptocurrency without including the story of this poor individual who threw away $80m worth of Bitcoin. Having had many conversations in my own household about how I should have bought £100 worth of Bitcoin in 2012 (I really should have), this helps put my potential opportunity loss in perspective.
Homes get smarter, but not much
The 2010s were supposed to be the decade when every appliance in the home is smart, voice activated and internet connected. This proved not to be the case.
Whilst IoT devices in business sectors including manufacturing, supply chain and healthcare are increasingly commonplace, the average household is not quite the automated abode so commonly seen in near future fiction. For instance, the UK’s much beleaguered smart meter rollout continues to go over budget and over deadline.
That said, there have been some winners in the smart home space in the past decade. Earlier this year the latest smart audio report from NPR and Edison Research estimated that there are now nearly 120 million smart speakers in U.S. homes, representing a 78 per cent year-over-year growth. So too smart doorbells and locks, with Amazon-acquired Ring arguably the most well-known.
Will smart homes finally breakthrough in the 2020s? Only time will tell.
Nominees that didn’t quite make the cut
Trying to squeeze ten years of tech into one post is a tall order. I could have included many more, such as WannaCry hitting the NHS and TV streaming getting competitive but as we say goodbye to the twenty tens, I hope you too can think back on the tech stories and events that were most important to you.
Look forward to hearing about them in 2020!