Looking Forward to Looking Back
As plenty of people have been at pains to point out over the last few weeks, 2020 is not in fact the start of a whole new decade but the end of an old one. Unless there was ever a year zero, they reason, then this year marks the end of the….what do we call them? The Tens? The Teens? The last ten years anyway. Journalists all over the globe have got it wrong, they snipe.
Personally, I have little time for these killjoy pedants. It seemed more than fitting as the fireworks popped and fizzed at a minute past midnight on January 1st 2020 to believe they heralded in a whole new epoch. 2021 is just not going to feel as grandiose, as full of possibilities and fresh starts as this New Year just gone. And I’m aware that these pedantic sticklers for correctness are absolutely right in their calculations, but in my head I dismiss them as the same boring people who feel the need to constantly point out that a tomato is technically a fruit, or who glance at their watches as you bid them a noon-time good morning and remark snidely “it’s afternoon, actually.”
What Have You Given Us?
Still, 2020 being whatever it is, this seems like a good time to take stock of the last ten years and see what words and concepts have become embedded into our psyche over that period.
SMART…yes, this was the decade when your phones and TVs got smarter than you. Moreover, the smartphone has systematically removed any need for awkward eye contact or polite but stilted conversation with strangers on trains, buses, in coffee shops or pubs. Everyone has one. You can now all be on call, online, bullied or informed 24/7 if you so choose and you don’t need to utter a word to the person sitting next to you. Personally, I’m all in favour of having so much information literally in the palm of your hand, though I think there’s an argument to be made for putting them down from time to time. Just briefly. As for smart TVs….well, I have only just succumbed to this marvellous development and already I am wondering how I ever managed with my regular, dumb telly.
SELFIE…Australia claims to have coined this term back in 2002 when one of its drunken citizens first uploaded a digital self-portrait onto the internet and declared it to be a “selfie”, but the word became official in 2013 as it entered the Oxford Dictionary. Its permanence as a feature in our lives became further cemented in 2015 with the invention of the (faintly ridiculous) selfie-stick. Yet again this development removes the need to scope out a safe-looking fellow traveller or tourist that you might then tentatively ask to take a picture of you. I never dared….always too scared they would run off with my camera. So progress indeed.
STREAM…no longer something Dolly Parton would have islands in, or an adjective to describe a cold streaming is how we live now people, this is how we get our data. Be it music or films or TV shows, a whole industry has emerged around our streaming needs, while another older one has faded away. The decade just ending has seen the demise of the much-loved Blockbuster chain of video and DVD rental shops that we relied on so heavily in the nineties. Now it’s Netflix all the way.
WHATSAPP…just how did we communicate before WhatsApp was launched in 2009? This was the decade when it exploded worldwide, becoming a free cross-platform messaging, voice and video service. Can you even remember what texting looked like before the plethora of colourful emojis that we now pepper our WhatsApp messages with? A sideways smiley face comprising a colon and a close-bracket…or a semi-colon and a close-bracket if you were feeling a little jaunty? My God, those really were the dark ages, akin to communication between grunting cave dwellers.
TAKEAWAY DELIVERIES…I still can’t get my head around the new culture of ordering take away food. With Deliveroo, Just Eat and the like, you no longer need to schlep up to the restaurant anymore. Just tap your smartphone a couple of times then wait for the knock at your door 35 minutes later. Whatever you fancy. From pretty much anywhere. Any time. For me this is too easy. Take away food is still something of an occasional treat and my penance for ordering it at all is to walk up and physically collect it. Call me old school. Getting home before your chips get cold is all part of the game.
UBER…there must have been something in the water in 2009 because, like WhatsApp, this was the year that Uber was founded. And going places will never be the same again. Just ask any black-cab driver in London. Now it is available in over 700 cities worldwide and again just requires a couple of taps on your smartphone to summon a driver and watch their progress to your location. No need to speak to anyone. No need to worry about whether you have enough cash. They’ll even deliver your takeaway via their UberEATS app.
(A conversation I may or may not have instigated/overheard/imagined recently…just covering myself here…. “This party needs some drugs”…”Ah, the coke is at my place. I could Uber it over to you.” Yeah, living in the modern world indeed!)
The Nerds Have It
HASHTAG…According to Wikipedia, the hashtag was first proposed by Chris Messina back in a 2007 tweet but was dismissed by Twitter at the time as a “thing for nerds”. Well, the nerds rose up and embraced that # symbol and now it’s widely (and powerfully) used across a variety of social media platforms as a way of searching for similar content. Brilliant! And like Selfie, the word became official when it entered the Oxford English Dictionary back in 2014. Now, on the subject of words, and just for our 2020 clock-watching, tomato-eating pedants out there, please note that the symbol is the hash symbol, not the hashtag symbol….just think how red your face would be if you confused the two!
E…not a word but a letter, which now regularly prefixes such words as commerce, book and cigarette, instantly affording them a modern, cyber slant. We’ve been using email for decades, of course, but with the more recent rise of things like the e-cigarette, e is most definitely for electronic nowadays (and not ecstasy as it was in the nineties). Did you know, however, that the first vape ever made was actually in 1963? It’s taken its own sweet time to really become mainstream but in the last decade the e-cig has firmly established itself as a popular and effective alternative to old-fashioned smoking. It makes you wonder what other wonderful e-developments are around the corner for us in 2021.
So whether you see 2020 as the start of something new or the end of something old, it is always interesting to look back at how things have changed, and hopefully appreciate how far we have come.