Protests, Populism, and Politics
As the world entered this decade, we seemed to be leaving the worst behind. We escaped the noughties, in which the world encountered the global terror, the 2008 Financial Crisis, and many other misfortunes. But as Karl Marx once said, history repeats itself twice — the first time as a tragedy, and the second time as a farce. The 2010’s have made the previous decade look like an era of stability and prosperity.
The Decade of Protests
This decade has been remarkably full of protests and revolutions. Within ten years, the leaders of many countries have been deposed or forced to resign, including the former South Korean President Park Geun-hye.
The global stage of politics remained roughly stable until the Arab Spring that sparked mass protests across Arab countries. After a street vendor’s self-immolation in Tunisia, protesters forced the country’s long-ruling president to resign, which started a domino effect in neighboring countries including Syria and Libya, where the protests became a civil war. But the Arab Spring has had no uniform results: some countries have slipped back under authoritarian regimes after a turbulent and unstable period of democracy, while others have managed to maintain their hard-earned democratic freedom.
The Middle East was not the only region that experienced pro-democracy protests. The next major revolution took place in Ukraine in 2014, where pro-European protesters deposed the country’s pro-Russian president. But soon after the revolution’s success, counter-protests emerged in the Russian-speaking regions of the country, culminating with Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and pro-Russian separatist forces starting a civil war in Ukraine.
Over the decade, protests in Hong Kong have reached the front pages of newspapers several times. Starting in 2014, when Beijing authorities decided to control the local elections process, the first revolution was suppressed by Hong Kong and Chinese authorities. However, in June 2019, millions of Hongkongers took to the streets as people started protesting against the extradition bill to Mainland China. The pro-democracy protests are still ongoing in Hong Kong, with tension levels escalating as both sides resort to violence.
The Rise and Fall of ISIS
Another major consequence of the Arab Spring was the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a terrorist militant group that rapidly took over major cities in Iraq and Syria beginning in 2014. The militant group gained notoriety for its propaganda videos of beheadings and the destruction of cultural heritage sites, committed ethnic cleansings, and took responsibility for multiple terrorist attacks in Europe, including the murder of Charlie Hebdo journalists in Paris.
Populists Take Over The World
For the European Union (EU), the 2010s started in crisis as centrist parties lost their parliament seats to eurosceptic movements. The upheaval started in 2014, as SYRIZA, a coalition of radical leftist parties, won the election in Greece. The situation worsened as the atrocities committed by ISIS caused a massive refugee influx into Europe, which reinforced political tensions in the region. Crimes committed by refugees were used by far-right activists as the argument against promoting globalization, and xenophobic messages against accepting refugees or migrants have been spreading across the globe. Starting from 2015, right-wing movements have formed the governments in Poland, Austria, and Italy, and entered the parliaments of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Spain. This was consolidated by the 2016 victory of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election. President Trump’s term has been associated with a rise in hate crimes, social tensions, and increasing polarization of society over social, economic, and environmental issues. Right-wing populism has also prevailed in Brazil, where President Bolsonaro’s policies are worsening the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.
The political stage has not been this divided since the end of the Cold War. While the West is embroiled in crisis, China and Russia are challenging the Western hegemony over global politics. And meanwhile, anthropogenic global warming is causing dramatic shifts in climate — the summer of 2019 has been the hottest ever recorded. It seems the Earth is a ticking bomb, and only time will tell if this bomb will go off.
Major Leaps in Minority Empowerment
It is a regrettable open secret that human beings are prone to prejudices and favoritism; in consequence, the minority groups within societies are isolated. Even though voicing the rights of these groups remains a challenge, there have been some improvements in the empowerment of minorities over the past ten years.
One of the most controversial and widely-discussed topics of the decade, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community arguably witnessed the most significant progress in minority rights. On June 26, 2015, the United States legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states, and many other nations including Finland, Germany, Australia, and Taiwan have followed the example. Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) removed transgender identification from the category of mental disorder after the approval of its health guidelines resolution. The acceptance of the LGBT community is still greatly uneven, though: as of 2018, homosexual activity was still illegal in 73 countries, most of which are the religious parts of Middle East, Africa, and Asia. In eight countries, homosexuality is punishable by death under the Islamic Sharia law.
Since Barack Obama’s inauguration as the first African American president of the US in 2009, many other milestones in the rights and representations of racial minorities have been made. Nevertheless, the portrayal of racial minorities in mainstream media has barely changed. The 2015 and 2016 Academy Awards were notorious for their complete lack of non-white nominees in all acting categories, prompting the creation of the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite on Twitter. That said, there have also been some box-office phenomena that have a predominantly non-white cast, such as Get Out (2017), Crazy Rich Asians (2018), and Black Panther (2018).
In other parts of the world, heated racial conflicts have broken out in the last ten years. Countries with a small population of ethnic or religious minorities are especially prone to ethnic violence. In 2010, ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in Southern Kyrgyzstan violently clashed after tensions concerning political power escalated. Up to this day, violence against the minority Hindu population in Bangladesh and Christians in Pakistan persists. In 2017, the Rohingya Muslim population in Buddhist-majority Myanmar suffered village burnings, rape, and mass killings, prompting a large-scale exodus to Bangladesh. Worldwide calls for support over Rohingya refugees have been voiced by human rights organizations such as UNICEF and UNHCR.
In terms of number, women are by no means a minority — statistically, they are almost exactly half of the world’s population. However, they are still overwhelmingly underrepresented in social constructs and workplaces. 104 countries — mostly conservative African, Asian, and Latin American countries — still have some laws that limit the employment choices of women, including the types of job they can undertake and the times and places in which they are allowed to work. Additionally, the gender pay gap between men and women remains high, even in developed countries: in 2017, Korea had a 34.6% gender pay gap, while Germany had 16.2% gap. Women are also vulnerable to sexual violence and harrassment, and speaking about rape is still considered a taboo in many parts of the world. But there have been a number of important achievements in women’s rights too: for instance, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia removed the prohibition on women driving in 2018, and following the Arab Spring, Tunisia affirmed equal rights and duties for both men and women in its 2014 constitution. Women are also increasingly becoming less afraid to stand up against gender inequality and sexual assault; the viral #MeToo movement of 2017 in response to sexual abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein, a powerful public figure, is one of the defining moments of modern feminism.
In A Nutshell
The period from 2010 to 2019 has seen plenty of improvements in the rights and representation of minority groups, although we are still far from a global equal society. Opposition from hardline conservative groups is only one of the numerous obstacles the world still has to overcome. Still, even if we take only baby steps, the important thing is that we keep moving forward.
Rise of Social Media Mania
It is estimated that social media platforms are used by more than a third of the world’s total population. It is a phenomenon that has truly altered our societies, changing how we purchase goods, interact with others, and access information. The 2010’s have not been the first years of social media, but are certainly the decade defined by it. We are coming to realise just how profound the influence of these platforms is on our lives, but whether or not they are beneficial remains hotly debated.
Fake News and Privacy
Despite some dissatisfaction with its platform from users, Facebook has remained the undisputed king of social media throughout the 2010’s, now with 2.45 billion active users as of the third quarter of 2019. It surpassed the billion mark back in 2012, and its huge global user base enables enormous potential for influential content. Ads on Facebook can be targeted to specific user cohorts for maximum efficiency, and the Cambridge Analytica scandal of early 2018 proved that this can have a significant tangible effect. Their use of private information to target political propaganda influenced both the 2016 US presidential campaign and the UK Brexit vote.
The proliferation of “guides to spotting fake news” available with a simple search is a signal of the change in the usage of social media over this decade. From a place to write “lol random xD” posts on your friends’ timelines, to a source of world news updates, to a minefield of false information, how we access information online is evolving. But companies are also realizing that the traditional social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter simply don’t cut it anymore for advertising to the younger generations.
That’s where attractive, young influencers step in. Instagram was first released in October 2010, and ten years on has approximately one billion users worldwide. Acquired by Facebook in 2012, it was initially just a platform to share questionably-filtered photos with your friends, but rapidly expanded such that celebrities gained millions of followers, and indeed celebrities can now be made on this basis. Paid to make sponsored content posts, influencers can charge up to 1,000 USD per 100,000 followers, and many are making a legitimate career on the app.
Instagram has also spawned negative social phenomena, though; the pervasive use of photo-editing software on images uploaded to the platform have contributed to the unrealistic standards of beauty upheld in most societies. Countless suicides have been attributed to viewing harmful content on social media sites, and drastic changes will need to ensue if this can be altered.
Online Dating Apps
Social media platforms designed for romance, such as Tinder, also rely heavily on visual content as a primary factor of a person’s worth. This hasn’t stopped their rise, however: a 2017 survey found that 39% of straight American couples met online, up from 22% in 2009. It is the most common method of finding love in today’s digitalized society.
Video Content and Live-Streaming
The most viewed video on Youtube at the start of 2010 was Charlie bit my finger, with about 140 million views. In December 2012, “Gangnam Style” by Psy became the first video to break one billion views, making headlines across the globe. This was eventually overtaken in 2017 briefly by “See You Again” and then “Despacito”, which now has 6.5 billion views. As with Instagram influencers, “Youtuber” has become a well-recognized job title in the past decade, led by video creators such as PewDiePie, Smosh, and Jenna Marbles. However, the dominance of Youtube has not been complete — short-form video sharing platform Vine blazed brightly with millions of users in its period of activity between 2012 and 2016. Vine’s arguable successor, TikTok, is a Chinese-owned app launched in America in 2017, which became the most downloaded app in the US for the first half of 2018. The provision of live-streaming services such as Twitch has also allowed live content creators to flourish. Primarily focused on video-game live-streaming, the platform reached 15 million daily active users by 2018.
Despite the claims of critics, social media has undoubtedly made humanity more connected in the last decade. Though not without danger, platforms will continue to develop and evolve alongside our society, shaping it perhaps more than we can yet comprehend.
Human Innovations in Technology
We are living in an unprecedented decade defined by technology. To put things in perspective, the children born after 2010 have never known the world that relied on flaky dial-up internet, film cameras, and indestructible Nokia phones. Technology now seeps into every aspect of our lives, from shopping and banking to transportation and communication. Although we still do not have the flying cars and hologram communications familiar in sci-fi films, a look back at some of this decade’s technology trends shows us how far we’ve come.
Smaller and Faster: The Mobile Revolution
Tech companies have been dedicated to making devices smaller, faster, and thinner. In 2010, Apple released the iPad, which set the stage for the tablet industry. Even if its initial reception was muted, soon after there came a slew of competing products, such as the Amazon Kindle, Google Nexus, and Microsoft Surface. Since tablets have good computing power but at the same time are mobile, they are popular among various user groups, from kids watching YouTube videos and students using note-taking apps to restaurants using them as menus. Companies are also racing to make “smarter” smartphones with bigger screens and better features. For instance, major tech giants such as Samsung and Apple are competing for higher quality cameras and screen resolutions.
Hey, Voice Assistants
After the launch of Apple’s voice assistant Siri in 2011, the use of AI assistants in different industries has exploded, with Samsung’s Bixby, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google Assistant all vying to become the best option. Consumers rely on the ease and convenience of dictating commands remotely to AI assistants. Although not without its limitations, this type of technology is improving in capability and popularity. Smart speakers in particular are being increasingly used in homes to control devices and provide information — an important innovation for busy families and people with disabilities alike. AI assistants will definitely reshape the Internet of Things (IoT) landscape.
Apps for Everything
2010 saw the rise of the “apps culture”, when software for mobile phones were starting to become used for more than basic functions such as texting and taking photos. There are apps for almost every purpose: gaming, banking, productivity, food delivery, ride sharing, and even coloring books. Almost everyone owns a smartphone nowadays, and this largely contributes to the huge boom in the app market. As of 2019, there are about four million apps on the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store with a combined revenue of 462 billion USD.
Technological Transformations: Cloud Computing and AI
At the foundation of all the new technology capabilities being developed lie cloud computing and AI. Cloud computing uses servers hosted on the Internet, typically called the cloud, to store and manage data. The concept was first introduced in 2006, but its potential and popularity were realized in this decade. With decreased costs and increased efficiency, companies such as Amazon, Netflix, Apple, and Microsoft have turned cloud computing into a business model. Artificial intelligence powers a lot of our tech nowadays as well, with AI applications being widely discussed in many universities and industries. Although it is an old IT term, its capacity has increased with improvements in computing power and available digital data. AI has already had a hand in the important events of this decade: deepfake videos that use AI to replace audio and video realistically are increasing in number; self-driving cars are starting to become a reality; self-learning algorithms used in social media sites are being blamed for creating radical “echo chambers” and political targeting. AI is also finding ambitious applications such as drug design, robotics, and medical procedures.
It is undeniable that human creativity continues to challenge the boundaries of today’s tech to create a world that is more convenient and connected. The rate at which technology progresses is astounding, and so are the effects on our daily lives. On one hand, everyday tasks are becoming ever more convenient and faster to accomplish, leaving us more time to come up with the next innovation. On the other, data privacy concerns and the ethics of technology such as face recognition and AI become more difficult to manage, as society tries its best to scramble after the legal and ethical implications of new technology. We too must evolve with the technology that we are using.