Reflecting on the 2010s: A Decade of Social Change, Protest and Technology

By Lindsay Wong

The past decade has been defined by raising awareness and campaigning for social and climate change, mass protests, natural disasters, technological advancements, and social media. The 2010s saw the rise of smartphones, streaming and the world going digital, as well as the fall (or decline) of certain industries. With 2019 quickly coming to a close, let’s take a look back on the events that made and shaped this decade.

Movements, Activism, Protests and Raising Awareness

Populist movements, which emphasised the role of the people instead of the elite, were on the rise as people came together to fight for various causes, such as the movements of Occupy Wall Street (2011), yellow vests (France, 2018), and Black Lives Matter (2012). Each movement had its own origins, but all of them centered around social justice.

Black Lives Matter movement

The 2010s saw the popularity of mass protest as a form of activism, where like-minded people took to the streets to raise awareness and call for change. Protests like School Strikes 4 Climate, the 2019 Hong Kong protests, and the Arab Spring raised awareness for serious social and political issues.

Arab Spring

The past decade has also witnessed a huge vegan movement, which has been linked to environmental activism and protests against animal cruelty. As a result, a number of vegan eateries and gyms have been popping up around Singapore in the last few years to cater to the health-conscious.

All of these protests and activism were proliferated by social media. With its easy access and global outreach, movements were able to gain traction, especially with the use of hashtags. 

Advances in LGBT and Women’s Rights

LGBT and women’s rights greatly increased in the 2010s, as well as acceptance and positive attitudes towards LGBT issues. Same-sex marriage became legal in 18 countries, including the US, Australia and Taiwan, the first Asian country to legalise it. However, in traditionally conservative countries like Russia, China, and Muslim-majority countries, gay sex is still criminalised.

Same-sex marriage was legalised in Taiwan

Transgender people were more widely accepted in Western society during this decade. Former Olympic athlete Caitlyn Jenner came out as a transgender woman on the cover of Vanity Fair’s July 2015 issue.

Vanity Fair featuring Caitlyn Jenner

Fourth-wave feminism began around 2012 and emphasised female empowerment. The worldwide #metoo movement, greatly propagated by social media, protested against sexual harassment and encouraged women around the world to share their experiences, especially in the workplace. In spite of this progress, abortion laws still remain a globally contested issue.

Disasters and Attacks

Unfortunately, there was an increase of terrorist attacks in the 2010s, with a multitude of bombings, shootings, and attacks occurring around the world. Racism and religious discrimination were on the rise this decade, and were connected to many terrorist attacks, such as the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue and 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings. The 2019 El Paso and 2016 Orlando nightclub shootings highlighted acts of hate crime and domestic terrorism in the US, which stirred debates regarding gun control and gun violence.

A slew of natural disasters like typhoons, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, volcanic eruptions and wildfires shook nations. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, prompted by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, was the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster

The Age of the Digital

With more people around the world gaining access to technology and the Internet, many industries have been on the decline, such as retail and traditional media. In what is labelled the “retail apocalypse”, many chain and department stores, like Gap and Forever 21, went out of business during this decade. People were getting used to the idea of having the news delivered via social media. Digital marketing and buzzwords like SEO took over the corporate world. 

The 2010s was a decade of ‘Netflix and chill’ – the leading streaming service provider offered more than tens of thousands of titles, including fan favourites ‘Orange is the New Black’ and ‘Stranger Things’. This prompted services like Amazon Prime, HBO and Disney+ to follow in Netflix’s footsteps.

Examples of Netflix Original series

Apps have had a big play in the 2010s, and one of the biggest disrupters is in the transport sector. Ridesharing apps like Uber and Grab offered fixed prices and more convenient transport options, threatening the taxi industry. Airbnb also emerged as a cheaper alternative accommodation option for travellers, and opened up room rental businesses for homeowners. Likewise, food delivery apps like foodpanda and Deliveroo opened up more food options for home delivery – it’s become a heavily competitive industry especially in China.

Grab, airbnb, foodpanda

Smartphones, Tablets, Social Media and a New Type of Celebrity

In the past decade, smartphones became more widely utilised due to its multimedia functions, convenience, and efficiency. Major tech companies like Apple, Samsung, Google, Huawei, and more have released their own smartphones that all differ in terms of appearance and functionality, but serve the same basic purposes. Smartphones significantly changed how people live and consume media. Although smartphones do have their fair share of negative social effects, they have provided people with a wide variety of apps and access to the Internet. Furthermore, Apple released its first iPad in 2010, pioneering a new kind of mobile device – tablet computers.

Though Facebook and Twitter remained popular, this decade saw the rise of new social media platforms such as Instagram, Vine, Tiktok, Weibo, and more. These platforms also became a central channel for celebrities to connect with audiences.

Social media apps

An increased use of digital marketing and social media has led to a new type of celebrity – the influencer. Using platforms like Instagram, Youtube, and Tiktok, influencers document their daily lives on social media in order to gain huge followings in exchange for money from advertisers via product placements. 

An example of influencer marketing by @imjennim on Instagram, promoting Daniel Wellington

Superheroes, Pop Culture and Media

Superhero films dominated the box offices in the 2010s, particularly films by Marvel and DC Comics. Ironman, Captain America, the Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, and Hawkeye assembled in the 2012 film ‘The Avengers’, grossing over $1.5 billion. Its last sequel, ‘Avengers: Endgame’, was so highly-anticipated this year that it became the highest-grossing film of all time. Some notable DC films include ‘The Dark Knight’, ‘Wonder Woman’, and most recently ‘Joker’.

The Avengers (2012)

With every year comes a viral online trend. Some popular social media challenges this decade include: planking, ‘In My Feelings’, Harlem shake, mannequin, ALS ice bucket, Tide Pods, and bottle cap. Dance crazes that went viral include: twerking, whip/nae nae, dabbing, and flossing.

K-pop stars J-hope (BTS) and Mark, Haechan, Johnny (NCT 127) doing the #InMyFeelings Challenge (2018)

Reality shows grew in popularity in the past decade and spawned some of the biggest names today, such as the Kardashians and Jenners.

The Kardashians and Jenners

K-pop made its transition from a niche to mainstream genre during this decade, and its popularity even extended to the West. In 2012, Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’ became a global viral hit as the first Youtube video to surpass 1 billion views. In recent years, BTS has achieved world domination by breaking world records, selling out stadiums, charting in the Billboard 200 and appearing on the cover of Time magazine.

BTS on the cover of Time magazine

In terms of animation, films were mostly computer-generated. However, 2D anime retained its popularity, with the success of films like ‘Your Name’. 

Your Name (2016)

As 2020 approaches, there are already events and releases to look forward to, like the release of the live adaptation of ‘Mulan’ and the Tokyo Summer Olympics. And with technology advancing faster than ever, it will be interesting to see what the next decade has to offer.