Research and Insights / 5 minute read

The Decade that Never was: ‘Generation Selfie’

Written by Dominic Allen

8 January 2020

Amidst the recent chaos of general elections, royal scandals, and Christmas party shenanigans, it was almost forgotten that we’d be bidding farewell to the decade, and yet now here we are - officially in the roaring (20)20s.

With social media encouraging the ’10 years on’ statuses (basically to laugh at how we’ve all tragically aged) there was also a glut of articles reflecting on the things that made a creative impact on our eyes and ears over the last ten years, and top 100 lists documenting ‘best of the decade’ nostalgia-fests.

Now I love a good list as much as the next guy, but it occurred to me that in a decade that didn’t even have a proper name (it was something sandwiched between the noughties and the twenties, with the unofficial title of the ‘tens’) we may have just lived through a period of time that lacked a distinct, cultural identity: where politics stomped on popular culture, and the arts - music, films, fashion, etc. - fell a little flat.

Ok, the words statement and sweeping are completely valid here. Every decade will always bring forth amazing creative moments that will be remembered for years to come and inspire future generations. I’m just not convinced that the ‘tens’ were really that abundant with landmark cinema, genre-defining music (name ten classic albums?) or fashion trends that truly stand alone. Yep, it turns out ripped jeans were actually invented in the late 80s.

marvel-1641554_1920Of course, the Netflix generation has transformed our viewing habits, and arguably television has never been better because of it; Breaking Bad, Games of Thrones, high end BBC drama, ground-breaking documentaries, irreverent comedy (Fleabag going from BBC 3 to Golden Globe winner)…all raising the bar for the ever-discerning viewer. The idea of a Martin Scorsese film debuting on subscription tv would have been laughed at not so long ago, but not in this ‘golden age’ for the small screen.

The cinema diet of the 2010s was largely a starter of Disney, a main of Marvel, and a dessert of Star Wars: Episode 12. All followed by a delectable cheeseboard of more superhero – preferably over 3 hours long (why, in this YouTube culture of low attention spans, do filmmakers insist on making movies over 180s mins long? Anyone would think we had enough time away from our phones for that!). The biggest grossing film of all time is now Avengers: Endgame – a 3 billion-dollar four course meal that perfectly encapsulated what cinema audiences want to go and watch right now.

As for fashion, here was the decade of the ‘hipster’, when people dressed like they had Shoreditch in their veins and California in their sockless shoes. Athletic gear started spilling out of the gyms and onto the high streets, giving kids street-cred and civilised adults an excuse for not bothering to dress in the morning. In fact, ‘athleisure’ crossed with vintage was suddenly a thing: Ellesse tops matched with bell bottom ripped jeans – like a violated sailor trapped in a 1980s skiing holiday. Meanwhile, the birth of the online ‘influencer’ blurred the lines when it came to defining fashion, pop culture and what was hot or heinous. Ultimately though, if it got tagged on Instagram, it was a good look.

I suspect my take on things is shaped by age, and ultimately each and every one of us is a product of our generation - no more fully shaped and squeezed through a culture mangle than in your teens and early 20s.  Whether I was lucky to be shaped in the late 80s and 90s by the likes of The Goonies and Grunge rather than Gangnam Style, Kardashian and Kanye is a matter of generational opinion but I would argue that ‘artist of the decade’ Ed Sheeran is perhaps a good barometer of where music’s at right now.

Me: Nice tunes Ed, but you’d have barely registered a peep on The Chart Show. 

Ed: Dude, Shape of You’s been viewed 4.5 billion times on YouTube…aaaand I’m mates with Stormzy and Swift.

So, what are the ‘tens’ really going to be remembered for?

The state of the art might not be so great but the 2010s was, well… this: the decade of smart phones and not so smart celebs, sex scandals and the #MeToo campaign, politicians and world leaders fighting over who could be the most controversial (with the most controversial generally winning their respective election), austerity and mass migration, data hijacks and Cambridge Analytica. Then there was the technology that could monitor our fitness, our every move and our every conversation, hail taxis and fast-food deliveries, and even take us into virtual worlds. And did I mention Brexit?

On a lighter note, streams, memes and Pokémon Go took over the universe, as did twerking, planking, dabbing and flossing (if you can do all four at once, then I’ll definitely like you on Instagram). Meanwhile, Tindering and Snapchatting meant swiping was more common than typing, and selfies became an acceptable way of presenting yourself to your online community - via an exaggerated duckface pout from your bedroom.

Of course, there is one common thread that links pretty much all of the above: social media.

Though Facebook and Twitter had woven their way into the public consciousness by the late 2000s, they only really exploded in the last ten years – now competing with the likes of Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Snapchat for our attention. These things, these previously innocent applications, have now become our reality, and together they play a huge role in how our world plays out these days (especially if you’re a millennial or late Generation X-er). Because of social media, popular culture has never been more, err, popular, but it now comes in disposable forms rather than lasting influences – or so it seems. That’s why the 2010s was more a decade of things, fads and temporary cultural phenomenons, rather than stuff we’ll be getting warm and fuzzy about in 20 years’ time.


This was the selfie generation, where the questionable side of social media nurtured a culture of self-promotion and vanity, spread gossip and fake news, and helped fuel and subvert political campaigns and social activism. It’s also done some pretty cool things, such as allowing us to have a voice more than ever before and making us feel like we can all genuinely make a difference.

With that in mind, and with the globe on a few teetering precipices, I sincerely hope that we can turn the selfie-camera lens the other way round in the 2020s and make this new decade less about the ‘me’ and more about the ‘we’. As in, HashtagWe.