2010-19: The decade that was in cinema, books, tech and more

How smartphones have changed our lives in the last 10 years

From staring at boxy machines on desks and on laps in the 2000s — thanks to the super-fast evolution of computer technology — we, in the 2010s, moved on to holding roughly palm-sized devices. With a few taps on it, we can summon a cab, order a doughnut, hire the services of a doctor, book a movie ticket, know when is the best time to run and pee during the movie so we don’t miss anything crucial (check out the RunPee app) and perform another hundred-plus tasks. It feels as though technology did not wait for us to fully express our amazement at how, with a few clicks, we could send and receive information across oceans, as if to propound, ‘Clicking is so 2000s, it’s the 2010s — the age of tapping.’

The smartphone boom, arguably, reverberated more in India than in any other country. The numbers from the McKinsey Global Institute’s ‘Digital India’ study this March offer evidence. According to the report, from 2014 to 2018, the number of smartphones per 100 people in India rose from 5.4 to 26.2, while the monthly data consumption per connection skyrocketed from 86 megabytes to 8,320 megabytes. Indians download more apps — 12.3 billion in 2018 — than residents of any other country except China; the average Indian social media user spends 17 hours on the platforms each week, more than social media users in China and the United States.

Predictions for 2020
  • The debate on the nationalisation of data (i.e. public ownership) is going to be at the heart of any conversation on innovation.
  • There’s going to be far more entrepreneurship in the digital media sphere, which will create a lot of interesting opportunities for young people.
  • There’s going to be more privatisation of public space. A lot of apps are encrypted and their data are in the hands of corporations. So, we need to understand what the consequences of it are.
  • – Payal Arora, author of The Next Billion Users

Twitter and Facebook, which were used primarily to find friends and share jokes in their nascent years, have matured to become hotbeds for political debates and necessary platforms for businesses... and they are no more restricted to just English-speaking users. Twitter India managing director Manish Maheshwari had said in an interview last month that 50% of the overall tweets aren’t in English. On Facebook, too, multimedia content in various Indian languages is a common sight.

According to Statista, a data research outfit, there were, as of October, 7.9 million Indian users on Twitter and 269 million on Facebook. Payal Arora, who teaches International Media and Communication at Erasmus University Rotterdam, reckons communication in India has gone from interpersonal to international.

“Whether you intended it or not, you are now part of a global network. Even if you are talking to someone specific on social media, your data becomes a part of a larger global database,” says Payal, who authored The Next Billion Users, which details economic growth and development in the digital age.

WhatsApp, now owned by Facebook, has impacted private lives as well as the politics in India. Going just by the sheer number of users (400 million in India out of its global total of 1.5 billion), it can be argued that WhatsApp has been the most definitive comms app of the decade. Payal explains, “A major part of last year’s politics was played out on WhatsApp. The old templates of polling agencies have been completely disrupted.” The almost unrestricted flow of communication that WhatsApp has enabled is largely beneficial. For instance, in 2014, when a Delhi-based techie was trapped during a trek in Bengaluru, he had WhatsApped a picture of his location to his friend, which led to his rescue. But lives have been ended, too, due to WhatsApp. Due to misinformation virally spread through the platform, over 40 people were killed in mob violence in 2017 and 2018.

Forays into the quotidian life

The past decade also added a new option of urban mobility. The advent of cab aggregator apps like Ola and Uber made haggling for rides a thing of the past. Ola claims to have over 1.3 million drivers on its platform in 125-plus cities across India, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Uber, which entered the country three years after Ola’s inception, plies in 36 cities.

The number of downloads of e-commerce apps on Google’s Play Store (over 100 million each for Flipkart and Amazon; over 50 million for Myntra among others) indicates Indians’ proclivity to shop from home. Consultancy firm Deloitte India, along with the Retailers Association of India (RAI), in a report has said that India’s e-commerce marketplace is poised to grow to $1.2 trillion by 2021. If provisions can be bought with a tap on your smartphone, then, partners can be linked-up with a swipe.

Connecting people, before this decade, was the end goal of phones. Today, with smartphones, it is the starting point

Apps like Tinder, OkCupid and Bumble are slowly changing the dynamics of relationships in India. According to Google’s ‘Year in Search – Insights for Brands’ report for 2017-2018, dating-related searches in India are growing much faster than matrimony queries. After the decriminalisation of homosexuality, gay dating apps like Grindr and Blued have entered India.

According to Statista, there are over 2.4 million Android and 1.8 million iOS apps. With technology becoming more accessible and affordable, these apps will impact and be used by more people, including the rural and marginalised sections of the population.

New tech, at your service

This decade glimpsed at the thrilling — and, in some ways, threatening — possibilities of Artificial Intelligence (AI), which in the 2000s was mostly seen only in Hollywood science fiction. But only post 2017 did AI trickle into the mobile experience with integrated programmes such as Google Lens or assistive apps such as Envision.

Even in its early years, AI has had a profound impact on the way we do things — from taking photographs to conducting job interviews. While the advent of AI is incredible, our personal data has become vulnerable. Many of us are unaware of the information that we let our apps access. And, even if we are aware, at times, we are forced to compromise our personal data for convenience.

According to a September 2019 study ‘The Global Expansion of AI Surveillance’ by Steve Feldstein for Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), India is among 75 countries with access to modern AI surveillance technology — putting it in the same list as China, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Then there is Augmented Reality (AR) which burgeoned across mobile gaming experiences, such as Ingress in 2012 and Pokemon Go in 2016.

These two technologies have launched a new app playground for developers, especially after 2013.

Payal encapsulates the difference smartphones have made to our lives in a line: “Connecting people, before this decade, was the end goal of phones. Today, with smartphones, it is the starting point.”

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 3:11:03 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/how-smartphones-have-changed-our-lives-in-the-last-10-years/article30434182.ece

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