HOLD THE PHONE!

The 2010s saw the rise of the much loved—and much hated—smartphones, with plenty of knock-on effects on the economy, our lifestyle, and our identity.

A People's Liberation Army (PLA) officer looks at his mobile phone as he speaks with two Hui'an maiden tourist guides in Hui'an county, Fujian province. REUTERS/Stringer


With the current decade coming to an end, it is time to look back and reevaluate the global developments from 2010 to 2019.

Decades are always remembered in popular culture by their most outstanding attributes. The 1960s, say, is synonymous with the counterculture movement, while the 1980s is remembered as the heyday of pop music and television.

Future generations will make a final judgment on the 2010s, but no element has contributed to the image of this decade as much as advancements in mobile phone technology.

Many aspects of our lives—the way we keep in touch with others, do our shopping, or hail a taxi, just to name a few—have been fundamentally altered in only one decade.

In years to come, when we look back at the 2010s, remembering our mobile phones and their development may not make us nostalgic and misty-eyed in the same way that cultural products from the 1970s do, but most will agree that the 2010s could easily be dubbed “the decade of the mobile."

Most of us started the decade with so-called feature phones, which—on reflection—offered very few features other than taking tiny, blurry pictures and sharing them via Bluetooth or MMS.

Although some found them mildly interesting objects, feature phones offered little in the way of multimedia capabilities and the idea that they could have any tangible cultural or economic impact on the society was frankly absurd.

However, with forerunners such as LG Prada, Apple's iPhone 1, and HTC Dream, a new class of mobile phones were introduced to the world between 2007-2008.

The smartphone was well received and took over the world in a couple of years.

It is expected that there will be 2.7-3 billion smartphones—that is to say fully functional personal computers for most intents and purposes—in use across the world by the end of 2019.

The 2010s, in other words, saw the spread of computer ownership and internet access to the masses, especially in emerging economies. This would not be possible without the launching of Google's Android operation system and the fourth generation of broadband cellular network (4G) just before this decade began:

While the former innovation set the stage for the production of inexpensive handsets, the latter ushered in the era of affordable mobile data plans.

Although the elite and citizens of advanced economies had been using commercially available computers as early as the 1980s and internet connections—albeit flaky ones—since the 1990s, the absolute majority of the world's population had little or no access to these conveniences before the 2010s.

In populous nations such as China and India, as well as in Africa, where traditional telecom infrastructure is often underdeveloped, many people were hooked up to the internet for the first time in this decade, not using a laptop or a desktop PC but a smartphone of some description and a 3G/4G service.

The number of internet users in Africa, the Arab World, and Asia Pacific has more than doubled between 2010 and 2017, says the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Even in Europe, the internet penetration rate has grown from 67% in 2010 to just under 80% in 2017.

The smartphone revolution introduced a democracy of sorts to the cyberspace, though this also turned out to be quite a fateful development for industries such as banking, music, and advertisement, which can now have a much larger customer base.

It was in the 2010s that the internet made the transition from being the realm of the tech savvy and the unsociable to being a place where the youth try to build their image, a photo memoir of forgettable personal exploits, and—as some would point out—the hatchery of bad grammar.

The photo sharing social media, Instagram, was launched in 2010 and went on to redefine the concept of fame and the art of achieving it; as of 2019, it has over a billion active monthly users.

But—hey! —what is there to complain about? Thanks to the smartphone revolution and the subsequent rise of social media apps more people now have a voice and a free platform to express themselves than ever before.

The previous leaps in human communication—including the invention of writing (circa 3200 BC), the printing press (1439), and the early internet (1983)—mainly benefited the elite, the privileged, and the members of the inner circle.

The internet, however, was finally conquered by the masses holding nothing but a touchscreen phone in this decade. The impact of all this, however, remain to be seen in the next decade.