Thinking back to the 2000s, I remember the decade of the 9/11 attacks, talk of peak oil, a blundering war in Iraq, and the massive financial crash of 2008.
In 2010, the U.S. economy was still working its way back to health.
Technology companies that are now normal parts of everyday living were just getting started.
Uber launched the first 3 cars in their NYC fleet in early 2010.
AirBnB raised 7 million in venture capital.
Instagram was founded in October of 2010.
Tinder launched later in 2012.
Twitter was founded in 2006.
Youtube was founded in 2004 and sold to Google in 2006.
Companies that got their start even earlier, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, have become giants.
What should we take away from the 2010 decade?
The 2010s will be remembered the huge chunk of daily personal needs, communication and activities that now flow through an algorithm-savvy, software-heavy, tech business.
So many basic needs and tasks are addressed by going through these companies as a normal part of life.
Like basic concepts in children’s books like explaining a fire station, a doctor’s office, or a farm. We need to explain Siri and Alexa to our children to explain their world. For the generation growing up today the world is mediated, in so many ways, through an app or an algorithm, or a computer’s voice. Technology has truly reshaped the picture of everyday life.
Algorithms mediating daily life.
So much of what we do now flows through someone else’s algorithm:
Going on a date -> Meet on Tinder. Find a cool restaurant on Instagram. Take an Uber there.
Watching a show -> Youtube/Netflix/Twitch/etc recommends it.
Listening to music -> Spotify recommends it.
Taking a trip -> Google search. Google image search. Watch a video on Youtube. Book an AirBnB.
Cooking a recipe -> Google search. Ask Alexa to set a timer.
Getting directions -> Ask Google/Waze the best way.
You decide to order food -> Amazon or UberEats can deliver it.
Planning an event -> Get inspired on Pinterest or Instagram.
Catching up with the news -> What does Facebook/Twitter/Reddit/etc show?
Trying a new hobby -> Order supplies on Amazon. Find tips on YouTube.
Fixing a broken appliance -> Youtube search. Order parts on Amazon.
You can only experience what is in front of you. Increasingly what’s put in front of you is sorted and curated by an algorithm. Potential dates. Shows to watch. Articles to read. Recipes to cook. People to talk to. Politicians to vote for. All intermediated by algorithms.
Distribution Power Tools for individuals.
Everything has gone from centralized to distributed.
Technology and internet distribution have enabled individuals to create things and do work that was previously only possible by collaborating or going through a gatekeeper.
Today, you don’t need a publisher to get a book out, a newspaper to write an editorial, Hollywood to make a movie, or anyone but yourself and a computer to distribute a movie, article, podcast, or any other content.
For products, you can build and distribute these easily to an audience with tools from Amazon/Shopify/Facebook/etc.
Because of tools for individuals to create online there’s been a massive explosion in creation: writing, websites, products, stores, videos, everything and anything that you might be interested in reading, buying, watching, or checking out.
Total explosion of shared experience.
Because there’s so much content, and algorithms and machine-learning target who gets what, we no longer get the same things.
The 2010s are the decade that will be remembered for the filter-bubbling of society by algorithms and social media.
It will also be remembered for the sheer acceleration and proliferation of content.
With respect to news and information, its increasingly tough to keep current. With 7.7 billion people on the planet and free publishing tools for anyone, the body of news, research, events, culture and information changes and grows faster and faster.
With respect to entertainment, everything is getting more niche. While there might be 7.7 billion people, you’re interacting online with the 30,000 of them who are fans of backcountry skiing photography or your particular hobby.
In politics, it means we have to work more to establish common ground on even basic facts and narratives.
The SEO-ing of Everything.
In the early days of Google, it was possible to trick their search engine algorithms by writing articles with keywords included repeatedly. Your article might be robotic sounding, but would show up for the keyword if you did enough to signal the algorithm.
Being at the top of searches was valuable, so a lot of keyword-stuffed articles were written around 2010 in online marketing as a part of tactics that came to be known as SEO or search engine optimization.
Today Google’s search algorithm is not as as game-able. But there is Amazon search, AirBNB search, Uber ratings, and so on with different platforms and algorithms deciding what to put in front of consumers. And everywhere there’s an algorithm there’s someone trying to game it.
When you see strange behavior today, it’s worth asking: What’s the result of this in someone else’s algorithm?
I got two copies of a book in the mail one day with a cryptic, poetic title. Inside was one hundred pages of random text and blank pages.
I called Amazon. The customer service agent, seeming to know something about this kind of situation, said, “You should look at your credit card statement.”
It turned out that someone had stolen my card information and bought two copies from their own Amazon listing. I searched for the title of the book, and found it still listed, for $200 each. Not a bad scam.
This made me wonder. Why did they ship me the book at all? I ended up checking the credit card statements only after getting the books. One reason, I think, is actually the credit card fraud algorithms. The card company knows my address. By shipping it there, the scammer’s order is less likely to be flagged as fraud.
A lot of seemingly unusual behavior can be explained by asking “what kinds of signals might this be creating for an algorithm?” Because many places right now are like 2010 Google with keyword-stuffed articles.
When everyone’s using their distribution power tools to create new content that’s put in front of consumers by imperfect algorithms, it’s hard to get reliably good information.
Countries took advantage of this in the geopolitical sphere. It was easy to put rival countries’ social media on blast with a constant stream of chaotic neutral content designed to be divisive and provocative.
How do you vaccinate against that? How do you build common ground when people don’t read the same articles or know the same stories? These will be questions we try to answer in the next decade.
We got rid of the Gatekeepers.
I said that everything has gone from centralized to distributed. And simultaneously variety, customization and niches have exploded.
We’ve gone from the news anchor everyone watched to the comments section on reddit with an anonymous possibly-expert breaking things down. Now celebrity doesn’t flow through Hollywood. If you are smart and cool and creative, you can become a celebrity on Youtube/Twitch/etc.
And people seem to like the new non-gatekeepers better than the old brands and middlemen.
People trust the reviews that they find on reddit. Instead of big-box store clothing brands, people buy from lifestyle brands on Instagram. Instead of Budweiser or Molson-Coors, people buy from craft breweries in their city.
It’s an art, being a giant corporation that people still like in 2020, but there are plenty of large companies that are still successful at it. With distribution and content creation power tools a lot of small companies and personalities are just becoming successful as well.
In a few places we still have the old gatekeepers.
Education is one place where things haven’t yet been distributed out to the individual and decentralized. Especially college education. But we’re also seeing signs that may change, in both in-person and online forms.
In person, we’re seeing experimental bootcamps and new ways of organizing an education that will compete with traditional colleges and universities to train people for new jobs.
And online there are years worth of courses, videos, and content available, both paid and free, where people are leveling up their skills or pivoting their careers with online content.
Laying groundwork in healthcare.
The tech giants Amazon, Google, and Apple are all working on different entry points into the healthcare system. So are numerous startups and disruptive companies like Teladoc. The existing order of the healthcare system is well-entrenched and hard to change. But groundwork is being laid for gatekeepers to lose control, and for individuals to have more options, information, and power over their own healthcare.
The rent is too damn high.
Perhaps 2010 will be remembered as the decade where millenials moved en-masse to cities. Apartments prices sky-rocketed in cities like San Francisco, Washington D.C. and New York. 2020 will be the decade where the pendulum swings back the other way. Millenials finally leave their shared apartment with three roommates in a thriving city and move somewhere affordable. Get ready to be inundated with 30-somethings buying their first house, mid-tier cities of America.
The Climate Steamroller.
10 years later and it feels like we’ve not done much to solve our climate problems. We’ll remember this as the decade of unfortunate procrastination. It’s hard to know exactly what we’re setting ourselves up for as a society, and I guess there’s been plenty of chaos and distraction and cool technology to keep us from doing more, and it’s a difficult problem to solve. But eventually, the debt is going to come due.
Executing the Sci-Fi Roadmap.
A connected home, car, and earpiece where I can talk to different AIs.
We’ve been laying the groundwork for the next decade’s sci-fi innovations. The movie Her really nailed the world where an AI is available in every person’s ear. We’re laying the tracks for that now with connected speakers and in-ear audio assistants.
The 2020s will be the decade where we’ll drive the train down the track. Where we’ll really feel like “we’re in a different world now.” Where a home just has one of these. Like an in-sink trash disposal, or an answering machine.
In 2030, we’ll be able to talk to a robot anywhere and ask a question or issue a command. The only way we won’t is if people have their tinfoil hats strapped on with respect to privacy. Historically, we take our tinfoil hats off as fast as Google and Amazon can buy commercials on Sunday Night Football.
Machine-learning generated social reality.
We’re now participating in online worlds with bots. Who can generate increasingly create compelling text, video and voice. When I go online, or watch a video, will I know if I’m interacting with a person or not? Will some celebrities be bots with an anonymous copywriter behind them? Probably at least a few.
How will 2010 be remembered?
We’ll look back at a decade where we experienced an explosion in content and growing diversity of perception among humans.
Algorithms started deciding who views what. Content creation power tools for individuals caused the explosion in content. We experienced the disruption of gatekeepers in media, celebrity, news, and product distribution, where anyone could get their creation or idea out to a global internet audience.
We’ve also started to see a fragmenting of things. What if we don’t share as many of the same stories between groups of people, or shared the same understanding of reality?
My fear is that this new landscape has been making us too societally confused to find common ground and solve problems.
While that sounds negative, we’ve also benefited a lot from these trends.
With old gatekeepers gone, algorithms curating everything, and power tools for individuals to distribute their work globally, we’ve created more new ideas, communities, content, and products by the millions.
People also have more equal access to participate in this growth, because the internet is available across countries. The internet has empowered millions of new global workers, creators and entrepreneurs, and they’ve made some pretty amazing things.
Kids growing up today know that some mysterious force uses rules to organize content in a “feed” and they knows that a specific robot voice named Alexa can answer a question or respond to a command. We are already living in the future.
What about the next decade?
In the next decade, it will become just as easy to hire a qualified software engineer or copywriter from Chile or India as it will be from New York City, and work in all three places will start to be priced differently. People will move out of expensive cities.
Companies that are small and take advantage of power tools for distribution will do well. And companies that hire the best talent by distributing globally and working remotely will find it easier to compete.
With the proliferation of information, more people will pay for access and assurance of better quality information, especially in healthcare and education.
Going to college will start to look different. When millenials’ kids are entering adulthood in two decades we’ll have reached a new normal for how entering the workforce is done.
Overall we’ll see a balancing out, where the inexpensive (remote, distributed, and online) continues to catch up with the expensive – in cities, education and healthcare.
Another thing is that we’re entering 2020 with less common ground. What does it mean for us now if people don’t have as many shared experiences? Don’t watch the same shows? Or believe the same stories? Can we still agree on what the problems are and solve them together?
What do you think this decade will be remembered for? What are your predictions for the 2020s?
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