Bracing for the technological world of the 21st century has been a topic of conversation and political debate ever since Y2K came into common parlance, but in the 2010s alone, several innovations already seem to have become irreplaceable for many in every day life.
Ten years ago, tech companies whose names have even become slang verbs — from Facebook to Uber and Snapchat — either didn’t exist or were only taking baby steps compared to the leaps and bounds that were to come in the twenty-teens.
Other businesses and technologies found themselves on the ropes or facing outright extinction. In Oregon, the world’s last Blockbuster video store is still standing and has no plans to close anytime soon, but about 15,000 others have been shuttered over the past 15 years.
Here’s a look at some of the major tech innovations of the past decade, and what their disruption left in its wake.
As 5G emerges as the next frontier of “smart city” technology and the Monadnock Region continues to build out basic broadband Internet, it’s important to remember that the instant access to video and other medium-to-large files enjoyed by most Americans is a relatively recent phenomenon.
The emergence of 4G LTE (Long-Term Evolution) cellular devices in the early 2010s brought most of the Internet far closer to our fingertips than ever before. The number of mobile phone applications skyrocketed, and the number of uses for a cellphone grew far beyond texting and phone calls.
Unlike its predecessor 3G, 4G allows for download speeds up to 10 times faster because of its ability to connect to multiple cellular frequencies at once, an innovation known as “carrier aggregation.”
The rollout of 4G over the course of the decade cemented the modern Internet “anytime, anywhere” mentality for consumers and businesses, and laid the foundation for mobile phone applications that would weave their way into the daily habits of Americans for years to come.
Launched in 2010 as a location-based check-in service, Instagram ended up exceeding 1 billion users worldwide by this past May. The photo sharing service took the millennial and Gen Z generations by storm, leading to a $1 billion acquisition by Facebook in 2012 and eventually spawning its own legitimate profession: the Instagram influencer.
It is now common practice for brands big and small to pay users to promote their products in photos. Celebrities like Kylie Jenner and Ariana Grande command a market rate of around $1 million per Instagram post, according to a 2019 marketing study.
The curated aesthetic of the app’s photo filters and its heavy emphasis on the number of likes and followers one receives have had adverse consequences, according to experts. A 2017 study from the Royal Society for Public Health deemed Instagram, of all the social media networks out there, to be the “worst for young mental health.”
Instagram’s rise has coincided with increased teen suicide rates in addition to diagnoses of anxiety and depression. Third-party photo editing apps, such as FaceTune, which allow for increasingly precise photoshopping capabilities on a smartphone have even spawned their own genre of plastic surgery — emphasizing certain cheekbone and chin contours with puffy lips — known as the “Instagram face.”
The full ramifications of Instagram’s impact on society remain under examination by academics and market researchers, but its influence over advertising and young people’s self image is already well documented.
First released in 2009 and receiving its first wave of funding in 2010, Venmo, a mobile cash transfer app, didn’t fully take off until the second half of the decade. Used widely among young people but still used rarely by many baby boomers and older Americans, the app has already handled more than $12 billion in transactions and has become its own verb for repayment among friends — as in, “Could you just Venmo me for that round of drinks?”
The app also has a social component, allowing users to opt-in to a public post that discloses any reason they type in for the transaction, but not the amount.
These often come in the form of inside jokes among friends, but sometimes the joke is on the user, with drug arrests reportedly resulting over transactions made via the app.
Research has shown a decline in cash transactions among young people coinciding with the rise of Venmo in the middle of the decade. With checkbooks already on the decline, major banks have been investing in their own cash transfer apps, and tech giants like Apple and Facebook have ventured into the new frontier of electronic cash exchanges, with varying degrees of success.
Uber and Lyft
Launched in 2009 and 2012, respectively, ride sharing apps Uber and Lyft have become indispensable in cities across the country, disrupting the taxi industry and causing perpetual headaches for airport operators.
Since the apps began to take major cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles by storm in 2013, some municipalities have adapted to the new technology better than others.
New York City’s taxi medallion system went upside down, with an increase in suicides among drivers who’ve faced financial ruin as a consequence of the bust. After peaking at over $1 million in 2013, the New York City medallions that allow drivers to own their own cab have fallen below $200,000 at recent auctions, with some even failing to receive any bids at all.
Uber has also expanded into food delivery and other services across the country, even in the Monadnock Region. While use of the ride-hailing app remains sparse locally, UberEats offers delivery from McDonald’s, Five Guys, Jersey Mike’s, Yahso Jamaican Grille and Applebee’s.
Both Uber and Lyft have faced allegations of predatory behavior among drivers, and customers, leading to several lawsuits.
Uber grew so rapidly that its name became shorthand for many start-up pitches, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, with its instant command service leading many companies to claim to be the “Uber for ” in their industry.
These strange cylinders have ended up in nearly one-third of American households, with market penetration expected to exceed 50 percent by 2024.
Made by tech behemoths from Google to Apple, Amazon’s Alexa is perhaps the best known smarthome setup, where consumers can call out the device’s name — Alexa for Amazon, Siri for Apple and “Hey Google” for Google — and command it to perform a number of tasks, from playing music to changing the lighting or thermostat.
While smarthome speakers may save time around the house and provide an excellent opportunity for vertical integration — with companies like Amazon offering recurring orders to come from the bot upon an agreement from the user, such as monthly delivery of paper towels — privacy concerns have increased.
To pick out a user’s command amid all other household sounds, the devices must record all background noise constantly to train the algorithm for when to pick out a command — and company employees are even assigned to listen to in-home recordings to improve the software, according to a Bloomberg report.
The specter of these little speakers always listening-in on private conversations has not shaken the millions of Americans who continue to buy them, though prosecutors have also found them useful in bringing charges against suspected criminals.
Still in its early stages, the number of household products and tasks that could be replaced by smarthome devices may pale in comparison now to what we could be looking at come 2030, along with the inevitable unanticipated ethical concerns.