As we wave goodbye to the 2010s, Matt Rudd takes a time machine back one decade and asks how far have we come? What have we learnt? And how did we ever cope without Instagram?
Let's go time travelling, back precisely 10 years to December 29, 2009. As the Noughties come to an end, Britain is in the grip of a deadly cold snap and a Cheshire schoolboy called Harry Styles is working part-time at the Mandeville Bakery. Meghan Markle, actress and freelance calligrapher, has appeared in two episodes of Fringe, the 79th most popular show on American television.
Angry Birds and Uber have just launched without fanfare, you can buy 10,000 bitcoins for $1 and the words of the year are "sexting", "staycation" and "simples". No one has heard of Instagram, The Great British Bake Off or Ed Sheeran. And we're still reeling from the news that Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has slept with "no more than 30 women".
The British prime minister, Gordon Brown, has seen the last YouGov poll of the decade and is biting his bitten nails — it predicts a Tory landslide in the forthcoming election. If David Cameron were to win, he would be the 19th Etonian to lead the country. Boris Johnson is making do on his salary as London mayor (supplemented by a "chicken feed" £250,000-a-year newspaper column).
Ashton Kutcher is the most followed person on Twitter. Donald Trump is one of the least followed — he's a busy property developer and TV star who only has time to tweet once every five days.
As the first decade of the new millennium draws to a close, the mood is optimistic. When Tony Blair was elected in 1997, he promised things would only get better, but after 9/11, the Iraq War, the 7/7 attacks in London and the escalation of the "war on terror", not to mention the global financial crisis, things can't get worse in the 2010s. Surely.
Futurologists in the 1980s predicted that we would have conquered cancer and Mars by 2010 and that all our energy would come via satellites from the sun. None of that has happened.
However, there are some sunny spots: after the parliamentary expenses scandal, news that none of the 121 departing MPs will be mentioned in the 2010 new year honours list has put everyone in a good mood. Peter Viggers MP, who claimed £1,645 for a "floating duck island", had already been knighted the previous autumn and Douglas Hogg, whose moat-clearing cost taxpayers £2,000, is already a viscount, but the rest of them will remain commoners. For now, Sir Fred "the Shred" Goodwin, former CEO of the Royal Bank of Scotland, retains his knighthood for services to the banking industry despite his involvement in the 2008 financial crisis.
Bankers and MPs weren't the only ones who were glad to see the back of the Noughties. At the end of 2009, the National Enquirer published a story alleging that Tiger Woods was having an affair with a nightclub hostess. In related news, the golfer then crashed his Cadillac into a fire hydrant, and within a fortnight more than a dozen women had claimed to have had affairs with Woods, who admitted that he is "not perfect" and has taken indefinite leave from golf to work on saving his marriage (unsuccessfully, it will turn out).
Bernie Madoff will be spending the next decade and then 14 more at the Federal Correctional Complex in Butner, North Carolina, after defrauding thousands of investors of billions of dollars.
Tech investors have had more luck. After Apple's share price halved in 2008, the iPod manufacturer's first forays into mobile phones have fuelled a recovery. Of course, iPhones are expensive and niche — Apple has sold only 20m of them worldwide in 2009 — while Nokia, purveyors of simple, ubiquitous brick-shaped phones with buttons, sold 40m this year and looks to be set fair. There are rumours that Steve Jobs, now back at work after a liver transplant, will launch a "tablet", whatever that is, in 2010.
The blogger Leander Kahney thinks this "iTablet" could be a game-changer. "Apple will totally rejig the computing experience," he predicts. "You won't manipulate a keyboard and mouse any more but rather use an intuitive touchscreen. It will be very tactile. It will be a whole new paradigm." Kahney also thinks customers might one day access their newspapers on Apple's tablet. "Instead of reading a review of a band, you could have audio and video embedded and listen to them and watch them being interviewed." Prescient?
Over at Google, Peter Norvig, director of research, predicts that we will gain more control over our digital lives in the 2010s. "Users will decide how much of their lives they want to share with search engines, and in what ways," he says. "And Google will come up with a way to judge relevance and quality that doesn't rely on popularity." Given that 70% of British households have access to the internet in 2009 and 55% use the internet every day, it's good news that Silicon Valley is focused on accuracy and authenticity.
Less heart-warming is the news that self-service checkouts look like they're here to stay. Despite assurances from the "big four" supermarkets that there will always be a human checkout option, NCR, the American tech giant behind 80% of the UK's self-checkouts, predicts a 50% increase in sales in 2010. Expect a lot more unexpected items in the bagging area.
In October 2009, Hilary Mantel won the Booker prize for Wolf Hall. The judges described it as "an extraordinary piece of storytelling", but it still finishes the year in seventh place on the bestseller list behind four Twilights, two Stieg Larssons and Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code follow-up The Lost Symbol. In the hit parade, Rage Against the Machine pipped Joe McElderry to the Christmas top spot after a concerted anti-X Factor campaign. But there is no escaping the fact that Susan Boyle, the runner-up in 2009's Britain's Got Talent, now holds the UK record for bestselling debut record of all time.
Slumdog Millionaire won eight Oscars, Wallander took a Bafta and Chesley B Sullenberger was ranked second after Michelle Obama in Time's Top 100 Most Influential Heroes and Icons of 2009 after landing US Airways flight 1549 on the Hudson. The Englishman Jenson Button was crowned Formula One world champion, British man Andy Murray reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon, England won the Ashes and Michael Jackson's autopsy read like a pharmacist's annual stocktake.
Although the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen ended in disarray, with developing countries, Friends of the Earth, Save the Children, Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund all criticising its failure to make any significant progress, G7 countries were upbeat.
President Obama said: "We've come a long way, but we have much further to go." Gordon Brown said: "We have made a start." Many countries have promised to reduce carbon emissions to below 1990 levels by 2020. In June 2009, the Prince of Wales told an audience of industrialists that we had "just 96 months to save the world".
Happy new decade. Let's hope it's not our last.
Written by: Matt Rudd
© The Times of London