Sunday 19 January 2020

The 50 objects that defined the decade

As we prepare to wave goodbye to the 2010s, Bill Linnane looks back at the fads, trends and movements the last 10 years will be remembered for

(Nick Ansell/PA)
(Nick Ansell/PA)
Pussy Hat
Progressive: Same-sex wedding cakes
Protest placard
Beard products
Changing world: a bicycle
Craft beer
Fidget spinner
Fifty Shades of Grey
Frozen yoghurt
Civilised: dinner plates
Cabin case
A vape stick
Optical illusion
Ice bucket
Selfie stick
New Balance trainers

The 2010s were the ultimate rags-to-riches tale.

We entered it writhing in the maw of the financial collapse, but we are finishing it on a high, back to the faux-fur coats and AussieBum pants that made us look like a nation of gauche dullards in the Celtic Tiger-era. The Tens were a decade that heard the last gasps of analogue, vanquished by the digital gods. In other words, your nan started posting fake news on Facebook to the point that you had to block her. It was a decade of crushing lows and dizzying highs; it was the worst of times, it was the best of times, as we shifted from poor to rich, left to right. Here are some of the items that defined a decade of rebirth.

1. Craft beer

It started with beer, then it was craft spirits. Wild yeasts, foraged botanicals you had never heard of, mad-looking bottles and equally startling prices: the craft drinks movement made being a boozehound fun again.

2. Deliveroo bag


The symbol of the gig economy, it first started appearing on the back of a cyclist screaming down a pedestrianised side street, as society became so lazy that it didn't want to cook, but also didn't want to leave the house to get food that was cooked by someone else. Then came Uber, because we also wanted to be driven everywhere. Then came Airbnb, because to pay for all these luxuries we now needed to pretend our garden shed had an unfettered view of St Stephen's Green despite being in Phibsborough.

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3. Avocados

The avocado used to be something you smushed to make dip, but thanks to the educational properties of the internet, we were to be informed that our guacamole was being made with the blood diamond of the veg world. Who would have thought that the humble avocado would overtake ortolan as the most morally bankrupt food on earth? Anyone who tried to cut one in half with a sharp knife, that's who.

4. Tiny Suitcases

This was the decade that we got used to Ryanair. Before, people would complain relentlessly about the punitive rules and unread Ts & Cs as they stuffed half their belongings in an airport bin to bring the bagged weight down. But we all got wise this decade, and soon we were all flying off on weekend mini breaks all over Europe. By the end of the decade, however, we were starting to question why it was cheaper to fly one-way to Lisbon than to get a bus from Dublin to Athlone, and what all those planes were doing to the planet.

5. NutriBullet

Food is healthier when it's blended. Smoothie franchises outlived cupcakes and frozen yoghurt bars, because we thought that consuming a gift basket-worth of fruit in one drink was the way to a healthier life. Those who had to use the bathroom after you would tend to disagree.

6. The trainer

In the olden days, wearing a tracksuit meant you were a PE teacher or a breakdancer. But we live busy lives now, and sportswear - or athleisure - has spilled over into our everyday wardrobe. Parents doing the school drop-off were the first, all jeggings and yoga pants, but soon athleisure became so commonplace that it was acceptable to show up to work in yoga pants, nylon cowl and rolled-up yoga mat. Businessmen thought they looked like Steve Jobs in their New Balance trainers, and sadly they were right.

7. Selfie stick

Selfie stick

Everywhere you went in Ireland you were poked and prodded by micro-tourists (ie, people from the next parish over) trying to be travel bloggers by waving a selfie stick in front of themselves. It was hard to be inspired by ancient chapels and historic sites of interest when you have some hyper-animated millennial waving one around like a shillelagh. The physical manifestation of selfie culture, they make you look great online and a right prat in real life.

8. Phone charger

If we could find a way to wire a phone charger into our bodies, we would do it. There was nothing worse than being out and about and your phone battery dying; how would you survive? How would everyone know where you are? What if you saw something 'Gram-worthy: were you meant to just enjoy it without harvesting it for your social channels, like a loser?

9. The Billy Bookcase

The thing that is in all our houses. They called it a bookcase but it was so much more, especially so in our increasingly small rental properties. It held clothes, food, books, and any and all your other worldly belongings. Ikea and its ergonomically designed, affordable furniture became a lifeline for those who were renting a kip but wanted to try and pretend that it was a studio apartment in Manhattan, rather than a bedsit in Drogheda. 

10. Pikachu

The mobile augmented reality of Pokémon Go was going to change our lives. Then, like everything else in our decade of mild disappointment, it turned out not to be the case. After a less-than-inspiring launch, Hillary Clinton referenced the game during her election campaign, sounding the death knell for Pokémon Go's stab at immortality. It did herald the mainstreaming of augmented reality and, while there is a bit to go, it confirmed that we can all look forward to a Blade Runner-style future where holograms of Squirtle annoy us everywhere we go.

11. Chromecast

There is an old trope about how people of a certain age hate technology. This is disproved by the rise of streaming. Everyone and their aunt was able to tell you about which sites allowed you to stream the latest blockbusters, and where to buy a doctored media player or hacked Amazon Fire Stick.

12. Pussyhat

Pussy Hat

The headwear of choice for the 2017 American Women's March, the hat was a symbol of the fourth-wave feminism that kicked off in 2012. Naturally, the hats sparked a row over the politics of their pink colour and who it did or did not represent. By the end of the decade, the MeToo movement was in full swing; handmaid bonnets and red capes were at every protest. A day of reckoning had arrived, millennia overdue.

13. Bread

Or rather, gluten-free bread. Once only available in select locations, gluten-free foods, much like vegetarian options, became widely available. Great news for diagnosed coeliacs, and people who liked to believe they were coeliacs without any medical evidence whatsoever to back their assertions up.

14. Alexa/Echo


A weird obelisk in your house that talks to you and records everything you say. Somehow this was an object of desire, along with all the other tech that was recording our every move. Despite the fact we have all seen the film Terminator, none of this set off any alarm bells. Give us convenience or give us death, we cried, as we handed over all our data to the kings of Silicon Valley.

15. Spats

South Korean superstar producer PSY unleashed both his natty style and his incredibly catchy single 'Gangnam Style' in 2012, and it became a cultural reference for years. It was fun, boisterous, and none of us knew what we were singing, but that weird cowboy dance was easy to do so it became a staple at weddings. It became the first video to surpass one billion views on YouTube, a platform which would go on to represent some of the best and worst aspects of allowing everyone to become a publisher.

16. Kindle

Just as the iPod changed the way we listened to music, the Kindle was going to digitise all our reading. Except obviously it didn't. Launched in 2007, it passed through several iterations right up to the Oasis earlier this year. They were great for travel, or reading Fifty Shades in public without everyone knowing, but somehow the romance of paper and ink kept us devoted to the bookstore. Some things we are slow to let go of, and books appear to be one of them. Besides, if you don't have a giant bookcase in your house, how will visitors know you are terribly clever?

17. The impossible Burger


To go vegan or not to go vegan, that is the question. Is meat good for us and bad for the planet? Or is it the other way round? Or somewhere in between? Another moral dilemma that the internet only complicated - a myriad of voices all screaming at us from opposing viewpoints.

18. Fitbit

A tracking device which tells the time and also gives you a fair indication of how profoundly unhealthy you are. The ultimate timepiece, it might as well be a doomsday clock, counting down to your extinction.

19. Rainbow Looms

Parents had to chase these down in a quest akin to that of Jason and the golden fleece. By the time you found a packet of them, your kids had already moved on to Silly Bandz, the subject of a moral panic in 2010 when some parents decided that they were being used by oversexed teens as a code for sexual favours, aka shag bands.

20. Bikes

Changing world: a bicycle

God bless the Cycle to Work scheme. It enabled us all to buy bikes for the entire family, or, in the case of a select few, actually buy a bike to cycle to work on. Cycling came to symbolise our changing world - it is better for the environment, and better for us, as long as we don't get clipped, or crushed, or knocked down.

21. Clowns

The sightings in Green Bay, Wisconsin, in 2016 were assumed to be viral marketing for a horror film. They were not. The appearance of clowns in random places around the globe actually started back in 2013, but after 2016 they escalated and spread. Then there was the reboot(s) of Stephen King's It and a general admission by humanity collectively that clowns are terrifying.

22. Virtual reality headsets

Oculus Rift were the first icons of the genre, but the term 'VR headset' has since expanded to include harnesses that you use to strap your mobile to your face. Anyone who has used an actual VR headset will testify that while it is a fun novelty, there is never going to be a time when you don't feel uncomfortable being blindfolded, even if the blindfold contains wonders. Also, if your mates were round, they would take the opportunity to punch you in the groin.


23. Coffee pods


It started with Nespresso, and only the rich could afford to queue up in Brown Thomas for hours on end to replace their metallic-pod collection. Thankfully, it wasn't long before our beloved Aldi and Lidl had their own-brand versions of these luxuriant machines, which meant we could have barista-standard coffee without being talked down to about bean varieties.

24. Capes

In the 2004 animation hit The Incredibles, a character who designs costumes for superheroes snaps, "No capes!" Four years later, Iron Man appeared and the golden age of Marvel was ushered in, entirely sans cape. Blockbuster after blockbuster made the 2010s the decade of the superhero. Meanwhile, cape aficionados Batman and Superman struggled to compete. Stylish they may have been - ridiculous they most definitely were - but they are still a symbol of the decade of superheroes, mostly of the male persuasion. Nietzsche would be delighted.

25. Plates

Steak on a stone started it, then it was little baskets of fries, soon it was wooden crates with all your food chucked into it, and it was only a matter time until we ended up having our food served from a hand-carved wooden trough. Thankfully this madness started to wind down around 2016 and now we are back to using plates again, like a civilised society.

26. Cupcakes

Everybody loves cupcakes! Look, here comes another store! Brilliant! We will never get sick of cupcakes. What a great business model. Actually, now we're kind of sick of cupcakes and don't want to eat them anymore, now we're all about the cronut as we are a fickle if sweet-toothed species. The cupcake fad lasted about a year, or 11 months longer than it should have.

27. Mannequins

The Whip, the Nae Nae, the dab, the floss, Mannequin Challenge, Harlem Shake, planking, owling, Taylor Swifting... the list is endless. Self-reflexive internet culture spilled over into the real world like a toxic gas. Fortnite- addicted kids doing the Orange Justice dance in the cereal aisle in Tesco while their mam stared at them with furrowed brow. The planet is doomed.

28. Vape sticks

Look, anything is better than the auld ciggies. Not so much that they could or should be used indoors in public spaces - as happened a lot when they first appeared - but they are a big improvement for the health of the nation. The obvious downside of their cyberpunk chic was that teenagers wanted to use them. You can't win 'em all.

29. Fifty Shades

Fifty Shades of Grey

A Lady Chatterley's Lover for the modern age. Released in 2011, it brought female erotica into the mainstream and was quickly followed by two sequels. By the end of the decade, it had been made into one of the least erotic films of all time.

30. Phablets

A cross between phones and tablets! Brilliant! Like having a small ironing board in your pocket, the phablet was really unnecessary, as over the course of the last decade the human eye evolved to be able to watch the average Hollywood blockbuster on a four-inch-wide screen covered in scratches.

31. Beards

Hipsters get bad press, as though men are not meant to take pride in their appearance. This ribbing perhaps led to the beard becoming the fashion statement for the male face in the 2010s. There were three options - the Charles Stewart Parnell, the George Bernard Shaw or the daring Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa. All ended up with food in them, no matter how careful you were.

32. Hoverboards

Along with their more functional counterpart the Segway, hoverboards would have been great if we didn't live in a land of cracked footpaths and potholed lanes. They also would have been better if they didn't randomly burst into flames.

33. Headphones

You put them in your pocket and somehow they came back out as a diorama of the Gordian Knot. Perhaps this explains why, as the decade wore on, people simply stopped using them, preferring instead to subject those around them to a tinny rendition of 'Despacito' or the pointedly unfunny audio of Two and a Half Men. Apple then came to the rescue with the AirPods, which were too expensive, and at this stage blasting your phone's audio on public transport had become de rigueur anyway.

34. Scousebrow

Eugene Levy. Bert from Sesame Street. Supervet Noel Fitzpatrick. Groucho Marx. Every girl in the pub in 2012.

35. Drones

They used to only be affordable to Hollywood studios and the American military. Then they became affordable to all. Then they became incredibly annoying, shutting airports and being flown around your house by real estate agents trying to make the semi-D next door look like it was located in Beverly Hills.

36. Flower crowns

Festivals were everywhere - Sea Sessions, All Together Now, Longitude and, the biggest of them all, Electric Picnic - and flower crowns headlined the fashion main stage at all of them. Our recovering economy meant we had money to head off to a festival for a few days, which meant flower crowns, because you needed something colourful to keep the eyes up top as you were covered in human filth from the waist down.

37. Smartphones

By the end of the decade, they should really just be rebranded as phones, in much the same way email is now just mail, and landlines are with O'Leary in the grave. The smartphone is now ubiquitous; it is the well that we have all drunk deep from. It has been central in our transition to digital, as now everything springs from this one device. It is the glass through which we now view the world, darkly. Also it has Candy Crush, so it's not all bad.

38. Man bun

In the Noughties we toyed with the idea of the Alice band for men, but somehow it just didn't take. Instead we opted for the mun, or man bun. We thought it made us look like samurai; to everyone else we looked like Corrie's Bet Lynch.

39. Frozen yoghurt franchises

Owned by people who never heard about the cupcake crash, they did bring a little bit of colour to the high street, usually for a period of six months before they closed again to make way for a mobile-phone-repair and vape-juice shop.

40. Ice Buckets

A rusty leftover from our Celtic Tiger Champagne-sipping heyday, the ice bucket suddenly became relevant again in 2014. The Ice Bucket Challenge was used to raise money for motor neurone disease whilst also giving most of us nerve damage. Everyone ended their video by challenging someone else, in much the same way gang-feud challenges go. Eventually, it petered out, but not before it raised $115 million for the ALS Foundation in the US.

41. Kettlebells

Great for damaging your lower back and for propping doors open. Exercise became a big part of our lives, and in particular those who became casually addicted to CrossFit, which was less of an exercise regime and more like a cult. Those who succumbed to its charms became consumed by it, just as they had previously with Bikram yoga, TRX and Bulletproof Coffee.

42. Snow

In 2013 we had Frozen, which taught us all about the romance of snow. Five years later Storm Emma, also known as the Beast from the East, came and reminded us what snow actually is by shutting half the country down. The cold, it turns out, really does bother us anyway.

43. Electric scooters

If you're too lazy for a bike and too poor for a car, the electric scooter was here for you. Zipping along at nifty speeds, the only issue was where they belonged; too fast for footpaths, too slow for roads, too unlike a bike for a cycle lane.

44. Fidget spinners

Another fad that lasted about 10 minutes, as once you tried to make the things spin, you pulled every muscle in your hand.

45. Placards

The decade of protest. Neo-Nazis marched in America, young people went on strike, farmers clogged Dublin with tractors; everyone took to the streets, old and young, right and wrong. One thing they all had in common was placards, witty media-savvy placards to catch the eye and make the front page, proving the old adage that anger gives you wit.

46. The white-gold/blue-black dress

An optical illusion that made us all question our own brains. To some it looked white and gold; to others it looked blue; to neurologists it looked like a good opportunity to start explaining how the brain works, but by that stage we had lost interest as we were too busy arguing about an audio clip in which some people heard 'Laurel' and some heard 'Yanny'.

47. Same-sex wedding cakes

Progressive: Same-sex wedding cakes

The decade that ushered in same-sex marriage, and the country that led the way. Ireland's moment in the spotlight internationally was a signal to the rest of the world that the old, rigid and often cruel Ireland of days past was gone. We may still have terrible roads and patchy WiFi, but at our heart we are a compassionate, progressive country.

48. Plastic straws

This could just as easily have been microbeads, but they were too small to photograph. First they came for our plastic straws, but we did not complain, because we didn't realise that paper ones would be so awful. Two minutes into your slushie and you realised that you were drinking out of the inside of a kitchen roll. Saving the world comes in many flavours, but in this instance it tastes like papier- mâché.

49. 3D printers

They would change how we live. A timeframe was never given with this statement and so we are seeing out the decade still unsure as to what they will actually do for us. Print straws maybe?

50. Hashtag

It ended careers, brought evildoers to justice, confused many in how it works, and told us all that You Only Live Once. Part call to arms for pitchfork-wielding online mobs, part unifying call for justice, part way to share your Love Island memes, it came to represent all that was great and terrible about the internet.

Irish Independent

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