Ten years of spittle-flecked online outrage have changed us

Patrick Freyne on key trends of past decade: superheroes, fidget spinners, online rage

Well, that was quite something. The 2010s it was called. I was a different man at the start of it, listening to California Gurls by Katy Perry, contemplating the plot of Lost, wearing my Google Glasses as I voted for Barack Obama. I actually can't remember it too well, so I've just googled the most popular things in that year and assume I was into them.

I’m pretty basic. “Basic” is a slang term I learned in the 2010s. Being “basic” means that I’m a “bougie bitch” which is another slang term I learned. Physically, of course, I’ve barely changed.

You’ll have gathered that from just glancing at my byline picture, which ages in real time. But here’s my look back at some key trends I spotted over the decade. Think of it as a silent, joyless version of Reeling in the Years.

Reboots, remakes and sequels replaced “having ideas”

The entertainment industry, feeling there were no new worlds to conquer, stopped courting innovation and began rebooting every single idea that had ever happened before. Some of these were good (Watchmen, Queer Eye). Some of these were bad (Total Recall, fascism). Nowadays, when ideas get stuck in the industry’s digestive system they will be regurgitated until the heat death of the universe. Executives are risk averse and would prefer to select some “existing IP” than a new idea. Consequently, this listicle has more chance of being made into a blockbuster film than your highly imaginative sci-fi script.



Very popular a few years ago, listicles are now considered too much work. People prefer a simple status update or grunt of acknowledgement.

Musicals were a thing

I liked Hamilton, the diversely cast story of a founding father. And I really liked Mamma Mia. It's brilliant because of simple maths (ABBA songs + Meryl Streep = $$$). But they'll turn anything into a musical now. Beetlejuice, Mean Girls and the music of Alanis Morissette have all been remade in musical form.

I'm waiting for Broadway hits based on Schindler's List, The Human Centipede or Tonight with Vincent Browne (that could work, actually). I write this as a joke but I'm scared to Google and check.

Superheroes replaced everything else

Superheroes are a mythical representation of American manifest destiny and it’s fitting that in the West’s waning years they became our default storytelling mechanism. You would like to write about feminism? Wonder Woman. You wish to write about being a cry-baby shut-in who craves the olden days? Joker.

You wish to write about the limits of billionaire philanthropy? Batman. All stories are told now using superheroes. If you’ve a problem with that you’ll have to find some other superhero vehicle with which to express that problem.

Everyone started streaming telly

There are now multiple streaming sources and it's getting confusing: Netflix, Disney+, Amazon, Hulu. Meanwhile RTÉ wanders the land with a bundle over its shoulder stealing pies from our window sills and etching hobo signs on our gateposts.

We really do need a national broadcaster to provide Irish content. Much as I love all this great streaming goodness I'm one binge-watch away from speaking with an American accent and writing Bernie Sanders on my next ballot paper.

Social Media use exploded

At the start of the decade there were 500 million people on Facebook, now there's 2.6 billion. And then there's Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and whatever bizarre new thing young people have discovered since lunch.

In the process, social media trends saw young people gobbling dishwasher pods and narrating video gameplays. When I encounter their glitchy, disjointed stream of in-jokes on YouTube, it makes me feel like I’m having an episode.

Outrage became a hobby

Everyone was dreadfully annoyed all the time in the 2010s. Every day we logged on to see what to be angry about: that man is impolite. That woman is a bully. Truuuuump! We’re all writing green pen letters to the paper now, except we do in it in tweet form, endlessly.

We were so appalled by so many things we rarely stopped to think about how much lucrative data we were leaking with each spittle-flecked moan. Could it be the nice people of Silicon Valley were actually injecting us full of rage for some mercenary reason?

Tech-utopianism gave way to Tech-dystopianism

When Steve Jobs died tragically in 2011 there was an outpouring of grief that made the Apple guru seem like a Jesus figure. We were still confident that clean-cut nerds of his ilk were making the world a better place.

A little later, Facebook was found to be helping nefarious people manipulate elections and Elon Musk was accusing heroic divers of paedophilia on Twitter and we realised that "make the world a better place" was, in Silicon Valley, code for "destroy jobs, then network everyone like data-cows and milk them".

Dystopian fiction was popular

We watched The Walking Dead, The Hunger Games, The Road, The Handmaid’s Tale, anything that could help us make sense of why we were frenetically globalising the economy to destroy jobs and trigger climate collapse.

Dystopian fiction even slipped into mainstream political discourse with Handmaid robes and V for Vendetta masks turning up at protests and hapless smirk-monkey David Davis promising that Britain would not have a "Mad Max Brexit".

Politics polarised

Fuelled by unregulated echo chambers and declining standards of living, everyone spent the past decade getting high on their favourite meta-narratives. Some were crazy conspiracy theories. Some were self-interested security blankets. Some were just old-fashioned racisms repackaged by people with fade haircuts.

One way or another, politics was unmoored and vacillated between the whims of demagogues selling a prelapsarian past and technocrats selling joyless social engineering. Here in Ireland, in thrall to a different, proportionally representative system, we wondered why people couldn't just remember the true meaning of politics: getting the mother a medical card and stopping any development in the locality.

On the other hand, young people were great

A newly politicised wave of young activists joined with seasoned campaigners to ensure Ireland got equal marriage and free, safe legal abortion. And Greta Thunberg became the face of a youth revolt against climate-damaging politicians.

I suspect they’re better than me. I just hope when we take to the hills they treat me like a wise elder and not a resource-depleting jackass who they leave to die of exposure.

And time was up for – some – sex predators

Social media also facilitated a wave of feminist solidarity that led to the outing of predatory sex offenders like Harvey Weinstein. Of course, people are already grumbling that #metoo has “gone too far” but what they mean by “gone too far” is often just something they’ve not seen before: consequences.

We all took selfies

In the tens everyone read the myth of Narcissus, and because no one bought newspapers anymore, mistook it for an aspirational perfume ad. So we started taking pictures of our own heads. Even when we wanted to take pictures of other things we made sure to insert our heads in the foreground. Our beautiful, beautiful heads.

We did this over and over again, only stopping to inject botulism into our noggins or to polish our foreheads until our craniums shone and ballooned like, well, shiny balloons. And then we sat there, happy bobble-headed freaks, savouring our own newly high self-esteem in a sea of social media likes and loneliness. “YOLO,” we whispered, which is another thing we said a lot in the tens.

And we all bought fidget spinners

Small whizzing propellers you can mount on your knuckles. Brilliant. Let’s leave it there on a high note.