Through the dis­tort­ing lens of the in­ter­net, the past 10 years have seen cul­ture, me­dia and pol­i­tics take on new, be­wil­der­ing shapes

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - DECADE ONLINE - SÉAMAS O’REILLY

The past 10 years have seen such a be­wil­der­ing se­ries of changes in cul­ture, me­dia, pol­i­tics and every branch of the mod­ern world, it’s brac­ing to con­sider just how and where these changes have had the great­est ef­fect. From the pro­lif­er­a­tion of memes, the re­def­i­ni­tion of celebrity, all the way to the cor­rup­tion of elec­tions, and the re­shap­ing of mu­sic, TV and film.

As we break into the third decade of the mil­len­nium, here are five of the most cul­tur­ally sig­nif­i­cant tech trends of the past decade.

In­ter­net fa­mous isn’t a thing any more While web no­to­ri­ety was once a sub­set of more gen­eral fame, “in­ter­net celebri­ties”, be they pro­fes­sional gamers, YouTu­bers or In­sta­gram per­son­al­i­ties, are now just celebri­ties in their own right. Sev­enty per cent of all in­ter­net use is de­voted to stream­ing ser­vices such as YouTube and Twitch, and stream­ers such as PewDiePie and Ninja now make more money and rack up greater weekly views than any com­pa­ra­ble TV or Hol­ly­wood fig­ure.

Such suc­cess has also spilled over into the real world, where Lo­gan Paul and KSI ditched the Fifa tour­na­ments and un­box­ing videos for two box­ing matches which drew more than a mil­lion in­di­vid­ual pay-per-view pun­ters. Mean­while, es­tab­lished celebri­ties have used In­sta­gram as a pri­mary fo­cus for their ca­reers. Kylie Jen­ner is re­ported to make as much as $1.3 mil­lion per spon­sored post on the so­cial me­dia plat­form, with Cris­tiano Ron­aldo, Ari­ana Grande and Kim Kar­dashian com­ing in or around the $1 mil­lion mark.

At the mid­dle-tier, how­ever, there are signs of a boom turn­ing bust, as the sat­u­rated mar­ket for in­flu­encers, bran­den­gagers and insta-in­spi­ra­tion ped­dlers has be­gun to gen­er­ate di­min­ished re­turns, and con­cerns among YouTu­bers over ad rev­enue have left more than a few con­tent pro­duc­ers won­der­ing just where it can go from here.

All our memescome true

Memes have cre­ated some of the most en­joy­able and spread­able con­tent on Earth, but have also carved out a sec­ond life as a near-im­pen­e­tra­ble ve­hi­cle for in­for­ma­tion, counter-in­for­ma­tion and dis­in­for­ma­tion. The frothy silli­ness of the meme for­mat, once the most for­get­table medium of en­ter­tain­ment ever con­ceived, has now cre­ated some of the decade’s most last­ing cul­tural icons, and Pepe the Frog, This Is Fine, Dis­tracted Boyfriend and Gal­axy Brain have proved every bit as en­dur­ing as wor­thier cul­tural touch­stones from decades past.

It was per­haps in­evitable that their power would be used for more du­bi­ous ends, as this decade saw the rise of po­lit­i­cal slo­gans and bad faith ar­gu­ments be­com­ing meme-ified by in­creas­ingly so­phis­ti­cated so­cial me­dia brands. Memes of 10 years ago lived on wack­i­ness or charm, be they Sad Keanu, dou­ble rain­bow, or end­lessly lam­en­ta­ble vi­ral wed­ding dance videos. Fast-for­ward just six years and anime fig­ures and car­toon frogs were be­ing weaponised as fas­cist pro­pa­ganda on the world’s big­gest so­cial me­dia plat­forms.

We used to laugh at dowdy politi­cians man­gling cul­tural ref­er­ences to seem cool; now it’s so in­her­ent in po­lit­i­cal dis­course that meme tech­niques are win­ning elec­tions and be­ing taught in po­lit­i­cal science de­grees. We’ve come a long way since Pi­ano Cat.

Is­lands in the stream

The spread and con­sol­i­da­tion of stream­ing TV, film, pod­cast and mu­sic plat­forms has cre­ated an un­likely para­dox in en­ter­tain­ment. Cinema at­ten­dance and TV view­ing fig­ures have cratered, mean­ing the typ­i­cal cul­tural ref­er­ence points have shifted away from the tra­di­tional out­lets and to­ward de­cen­tralised pock­ets of con­tent; a de­vel­op­ment with which the es­tab­lished me­dia has been slow to keep up. As you’ll have no­ticed af­ter that end­less spi­ral of din­ner party con­ver­sa­tion ( “Have you seen this show?” “No, but have you seen this one?”), choice for high-qual­ity drama and com­edy has never been wider, but au­di­ences are more atom­ised than ever, with each of us liv­ing in our own be­spoke is­lands of

From its pre­miere in APRIL to its fi­nale last May, the decade. Win­ter came and went. Nasty things were done for love. Every method of mur­der, rape, tor­ture, incest and res­ur­rec­tion was graph­i­cally ex­plored. Lan­nis­ters sent their re­gards (and paid their debts). Wights, white walk­ers, dragons, gi­ants and a gazil­lion ex­tras in leather and pelts got stuck with the pointy end. Hodor held the door. Jon Snow knew noth­ing, and, al­most 10 years later, com­pre­hended less. And now our watch is ended

con­tent. Re­gard­less, pro­duc­ers are dou­bling down. Net­flix is set to spend $15 bil­lion on new con­tent in 2020, while Ama­zon has freed up $1 bil­lion for its Lord of the Rings adap­ta­tion alone.

Cinema, mean­while, has in­creas­ingly be­come the home for block­buster mega-hits at the ex­clu­sion of all else, and Dis­ney’s can­ni­bal­i­sa­tion of Marvel, Lu­cas­film and Fox means that seven of this year’s high­est-gross­ing films came from the House of Mouse, not count­ing the gi­ant tak­ings ex­pected for their Star Wars se­quel The Rise of Sky­walker later this month. In mu­sic, the ef­fec­tive monopoly of stream­ing plat­forms such as Spo­tify has seen lis­ten­ers in­creas­ingly find their mega-hits in nar­rower cir­cum­stances, and truly mind-bog­gling num­bers.

The in­clu­sion of these fig­ures in tra­di­tional charts has re­sulted in some eye-pop­ping re­sults, such as when ubiq­ui­tous guitar-pop gnome Ed Sheeran spent sev­eral weeks of 2017 with 14 songs in the UK’s Top 15. With block­buster artists and stu­dios mak­ing big­ger im­pacts than ever be­fore, and the rest scratch­ing for rel­a­tive crumbs, it’s hard to pre­dict how the in­dus­try will keep any but the largest boats afloat in the decade to come.

Pri­vacy has be­come a thing peo­ple care about . . .

As any­one who re­ceived an email in 2018 can at­test, pri­vacy be­came “a thing” this decade, as GDPR rules came into ef­fect to stop peo­ple’s data be­ing held in­def­i­nitely on­line. A storm of scan­dals – from Google and Ap­ple’s maps tech­nol­ogy track­ing your every move with­out con­sent, to Sam­sung hav­ing to ad­mit that yes, their smart TVs were lis­ten­ing to your con­ver­sa­tions and, maybe, tailor­ing ads to your needs in re­sponse – brought pri­vacy is­sues to the fore­front.

While the idea of your TV try­ing to sell you lawn­mow­ers and san­i­tary prod­ucts is not ex­actly op­ti­mal, pri­vacy is­sues re­ally reached their dystopian zenith in the wake of the nu­mer­ous scan­dals which rocked

Face­book, and the near-end­less vault of data they hold on the Earth’s pop­u­la­tion. In 2016, the data of 87 mil­lion peo­ple were har­vested by strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions firm Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica; in­for­ma­tion which was then weaponised to in­flu­ence the 2016 US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and the UK’s Brexit ref­er­en­dum – in­ter­ven­tions which sev­eral sources claim were de­ci­sive in both cases.

The sheer range of in­for­ma­tion from our pri­vate lives now con­tained within the servers of Big Data, and the so­phis­ti­ca­tion with which it can be wielded, should have made on­line pri­vacy the is­sue of the decade.

. . . and also some­thing they don’t

But, for all the news and op­pro­brium gen­er­ated by pri­vacy is­sues, more dis­turb­ing still is the fact that they don’t seem to have a last­ing ef­fect on peo­ple’s at­ti­tudes to their data or, more ac­cu­rately, whether they should share it re­gard­less. A Pew study from 2019 re­ports that most Amer­i­cans are alarmed by data col­lec­tion, with 72 per cent of re­spon­dents say­ing they be­lieve that most or all of their move­ments on­line are be­ing tracked, and 70 per cent say­ing they feel their data is less se­cure than it was five years ago. De­spite this, less than a fifth re­port that they al­ways or even of­ten read the pri­vacy poli­cies they agree to.

A Viber study from 2018 re­ported that only 55 per cent of those asked would ob­ject to that data be­ing shared with­out their con­sent, but, given the fact that said con­sent is usu­ally waived away with the tick of a box at the point of use, it’s hard to see this as a par­tic­u­larly strong ob­jec­tion. All of which makes sense given the sheer amount of data peo­ple are sub­mit­ting to their tech­no­log­i­cal over­lords, de­spite all of the con­cern so of­ten in­voked. Loss of pri­vacy is, it seems, not just some­thing we’re con­cerned about, but en­tirely re­signed to.

While the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of al­wayson­line con­sumers think they ought to be con­cerned about their pri­vacy, we don’t al­ways seem to re­mem­ber this when it comes to us­ing all of the ser­vices we like to use, and are seem­ingly un­will­ing to sac­ri­fice the ease of the mod­ern world to negate that risk en­tirely. For all our protes­ta­tions to the con­trary, like 1984’s Win­ston Smith, the past 10 years have seen us win the vic­tory over our­selves.

As much as we deny it, we do love Big Brother, af­ter all.

In DE­CEM­BER 2013, the al­bum re­lease with the sur­prise drop of her self-ti­tled “vis­ual al­bum” onto iTunes. The songs and ac­com­pa­ny­ing videos dealt with fem­i­nism, sex­u­al­ity, race and power. Ev­ery­one tried and most failed to fol­low suit. Three years later she rein­vented her own trick with Lemon­ade, a con­cept al­bum ac­com­pa­nied by an hour­long film. The rest of the world is still try­ing to catch up.


Clock­wise from left: the ubiq­ui­tous ‘This is Fine’ meme; ri­val YouTu­bers KSI and Lo­gan Paul get in the ring; a Trump fan with a Pepe the frog sign at a rally in 2017; Ed Sheeran , who had 14 songs in the UK’s Top 15 in 2017; so­cial-me­dia mae­stro Kylie Jen­ner.

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