From Facebook fails to 5G, here are the biggest stories of the decade

As part of our Decade in Review series, we find that truth really is stranger than fiction.

Connie Guglielmo SVP, AI Edit Strategy
Connie Guglielmo is a senior vice president focused on AI edit strategy for CNET, a Red Ventures company. Previously, she was editor in chief of CNET, overseeing an award-winning team of reporters, editors and photojournalists producing original content about what's new, different and worth your attention. A veteran business-tech journalist, she's worked at MacWeek, Wired, Upside, Interactive Week, Bloomberg News and Forbes covering Apple and the big tech companies. She covets her original nail from the HP garage, a Mac the Knife mug from MacWEEK, her pre-Version 1.0 iPod, a desk chair from Next Computer and a tie-dyed BMUG T-shirt. She believes facts matter.
Expertise I've been fortunate to work my entire career in Silicon Valley, from the early days of the Mac to the boom/bust dot-com era to the current age of the internet, and interviewed notable executives including Steve Jobs. Credentials
  • Member of the board, UCLA Daily Bruin Alumni Network; advisory board, Center for Ethical Leadership in the Media
Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Connie Guglielmo
Kent German
18 min read

Apple's "magical" iPad. Battery-powered cars -- and the glass-challenged Cybertruck -- from Tesla. AR monsters. Unicorns. Russian trolls. Global surveillance. Nosy Ring cameras. Smartwatches. Not-so-smart glasses. Ride-hailing. House-sharing. Patent wars. Streaming services. Selfies. Fake news. Fake meat. Foldable phones. Marvelous superheroes. Real UFOs(!). Grumpy cat. The dress. Star Wars, Disney Plus and the Mandalorian. These, and so much more, are the stories of the 2010s.


Ten years ago, Steve Jobs introduced the world to the iPad, Yahoo outperformed Google in the stock market, Twitter started selling ads called promoted tweets, Tesla's Elon Musk ran out of cash and, Cambridge Analytica didn't even exist.

Today, we're asking smart assistants to order us pizza, welcoming robots into our homes, plotting missions to Mars, using tech to solve cold cases and preparing for self-driving cars. We're tethered to the smartphone as the remote-control of our lives and are starting to debate whether nascent 5G mobile networks -- which'll let us download movies in seconds rather than minutes  -- are going to be fast enough. We said goodbye to Carrie Fisher, but it looks like she was spot-on when she said "instant gratification takes too long."

Watch this: Editors' Choice: The top tech of 2019

For the past few months as part of our Decade in Review series, the CNET team has been reviewing the defining moments in tech and culture since 2010 -- the good, the bad, the inspiring, the cringeworthy. We've put together our take on everything from the best movies, video games , apps and technology to memorable memes and the scandals that helped define the decade. And of course, we looked at the people who helped shape the world, including tech innovators like Apple's Jobs and Tesla's Musk, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon's Jeff Bezos and whistleblowers who shined the light on tech's toxic culture and the government's secret surveillance tactics.

Here are the moments that stand out among the many standout moments we've compiled for you.

WIRED25 Festival: WIRED Celebrates 25th Anniversary - Day 2

Edward Snowden speaks remotely at the Wired25 Festival in October 2018. 

Phillip Faraone / Getty Images

Quotes that defined the 2010s

There was a lot of interesting talk during the decade. Apple's Tim Cook told the world he's gay, Zuckerberg said it was a "pretty crazy idea" that fake news on Facebook might have influenced the 2016 election in any way, and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recommended that women not ask for raises but instead wait for karma, basically, to reward them.

But two moments that stand out are out of the mouths of whistleblowers. Hero or villain, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden captured the world's attention and fled the country in 2013 after sharing documents and details about how the US government was eavesdropping on calls. 

Said Snowden, "I'm no different from anyone else. I don't have special skills. I'm just another guy who sits there day to day in the office, watches what's happening and goes, 'This is something that's not our place to decide. The public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong.'"  

Meanwhile, an engineer at Uber quit her job and told the world about what Silicon Valley's toxic culture looked like in a first-person account that turned Susan Fowler into the poster child for tech's #MeToo moment. "When I asked our director at an org all-hands about what was being done about the dwindling numbers of women in the org compared to the rest of the company, his reply was, in a nutshell, that the women of Uber just needed to step up and be better engineers." 


Mad Max won our top billing.


The 30 best films of the decade

It was tough work, but we ranked our favorites. Beyond Marvel's first black superhero (Black Panther) and DC Comics modern take on Wonder Woman, filmmakers took on coming-of-age stories (Boyhood, Lady Bird), put a new twist on horror (Get Out), showed us a scary future with AI-enhanced robots (Ex Machina) and gave us a charming, poignant ending (or at least we thought it was an ending) to the story of Buzz, Woody and all those other toys moving on after their kids grows up (Toy Story 3.)

But Mad Max: Fury Road sits at the top of our list as one of the best action movies of all time. In George Miller's visionary post-apocalyptic Oz, Mad Max and the one-armed Imperator Furiosa attempt to save "the wives," women selected for breeding, from the tyrannical Immortan Joe. The entire movie takes place over one absolutely bonkers chase sequence. Its cinematic stats are jaw-dropping: Miller used 3,500 storyboards and took 480 hours of raw footage. He overcame a decade of roadblocks -- recasting, location changes and creative resets (he explored the possibility of a 3D live-action version) -- before achieving high-octane imaginative insanity.

Know Your Meme

The top 15 memes of the decade

When it comes to memes, the internet has blessed us over the last 10 years. Grumpy Cat, Success Kid, a tea-drinking "But That's  None of My Business" Kermit the Frog all made our list, along with Evil Kermit and The Dress (it's white and gold, right?)

But the winner, at least according to CNET staff crowdsourcing, is Distracted Boyfriend. What began as a stock image depicting a guy checking out another girl (to the horror of his girlfriend) became one of the most versatile (and, in some places, controversial) memes on the internet. People quickly began captioning the image with various scenarios conveying jealousy or altering the people pictured. Of course, a distracted girlfriend meme appeared a short time later. But boyfriend behaving badly still takes the prize.


Game of Thrones wowed us all decade long.


The most influential TV shows of the decade

From SNL to Game of Thrones, we've ranked our picks. Thanks to the investments by Netflix, Amazon Prime, Comedy Central, HBO, Cartoon Network and the broadcast networks (ABC, NBC and CBS, which owns CNET), we're living through another golden age of television with amazing storytelling on the small screen. Stranger Things, Breaking Bad, Orange is the New Black, Black Mirror, Mad Men, House of Cards, Glee and many other shows made our list.

But the standout, even with that ending: HBO's Game of Thrones. Over 1.7 million people cared enough about Game of Thrones to sign a petition demanding a remake of the final season. But the HBO fantasy hit based on George R.R. Martin's novels will be remembered for more than just a divisive season 8. It will be remembered as a televisual juggernaut, the absolutest of absolute units when it comes to television in the 2010s.

And for giving us Jon Snow, dragons, magic, swords and a killer line: Winter is coming.


Adventure is out there.


The 30 best video games of the decade

With music or movies or TV, there's a tendency to lionize the good old days. To remember older works or art with fondness or even rose-tinted glasses. Video gaming, as an art form intimately connected with cutting-edge tech, is slightly different. Often we forget the games that come before or replace them with something shiny and new.

Despite that, you'd be crazy to argue that the last decade -- 2010 through to 2019 -- hasn't been one of the best in terms of high-quality video games: Destiny, Overwatch, League of Legends, Pokemon Go, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Skyrim, Minecraft, Breath of the Wild and Fortnite all made our top picks.


Verizon introduced the Thunderbolt in 2011.

Kent German/CNET

The 10 most important tech trends of the decade

The past decade gave us a lot of disruptive tech: AirPods and the death of the headphone jack, Tesla autopilot, cord cutting, Uber, Lyft and other "sharing economy" services. (But as Advice team chief, Jason Hiner, writes the sharing economy was never that altruistic.)

Perhaps the biggest innovation was 4G LTE wireless networks. By powering the new smartphones we carried everywhere, 4G put the world in our pocket and showed us how shockingly a mobile device could be. It soon unlocked a slew of new capabilities, from mobile streaming to hotspot tethering to real-time apps (like Uber, which was just getting started) -- all of which had very limited experiences on 3G phones. 


The dismantling of net neutrality was a depressing tech trend.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The worst of a decade in tech

So many choices made narrowing down the list of the worst of a decade in tech a grueling task for Senior Editor Lori Grunin. But she persevered to deliver a list that covers spam, killfies (selfies that led to death), the dismantling of net neutrality, the souring of social media and the rise of cyberweapons.

It's hard to say what the standout here is because they're all problematic. But let's talk privacy. Consumers seem to have no trouble exchanging privacy for convenience on a mass scale -- the convenience of facial recognition, smart home assistants, and video doorbells, to name a few. And we've also traded away our privacy for curiosity's sake as well, via home DNA tests, silly data-harvesting quizzes et. al. 

Where's it all leading? That's the scariest thing of all. We don't know yet what we don't know.


Tim Cook at WWDC 2019.

James Martin/CNET

These 30 personalities defined the 2010s

What's there to say about the list, since they're all notable? Here are a few of our picks.

  • Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder who spent much of the decade hiding in plain sight 
  • Mary Barra, first woman to serve as CEO of General Motors -- and any major carmaker
  • Richard Branson, the billionaire magnet making bets on travel around Earth and beyond
  • Kimberly Bryant, founder of Black Girls Code
  • Tim Cook, Apple's socially-minded CEO
  • Jack Dorsey, the king of Twitter
  • Jennifer Doudna, researcher asking ethical questions about CRISPR and genetic engineering
  • Susan Fowler, Uber's whistleblower and #MeToo hero
  • Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos and bad science
  • John Legere, T-Mobile's CEO and the man who made us think magenta
  • Elon Musk, Tesla founder and man who likes to think outside the box
  • Satya Nadella, remaking Microsoft 
  • Zoe Quinn, bringing attention to the ugly side of gaming culture 
  • Meg Whitman, HP CEO now leading Quibi, a short-form video service
  • Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder  

Here are the decade's 17 top viral videos

Viral video didn't start in the last decade, but it certainly flourished as playing video on our phones became common. Exactly what makes a video go viral, though, is a mystery. Why does one cute-kid video earn a million views, while another is seen only by a doting grandma? What makes one prank catch fire, or one funny cat earn fur-ocious fans?

A look back at the top viral videos of the 2010s doesn't provide easy answers. The clips include everything from one teen's terrible song about the best day of the week to a rat dragging a piece of pizza through the New York subway to a Pop-Tart cat farting rainbows. 


Roadshow's Steven Ewing  picked the BMW 1 M Coupe.

Josh Miller/CNET

Favorite cars and trucks of the 2010s

The good folks over at CNET Roadshow are rarely in the office because they spend their time testing cars. A lot of cars. All over the world. They drive everything from sub-$20,000 economy vehicles found in your local parking lot to million-dollar exotics you'll probably never see on the road. The point is that nearly every new vehicle you can buy comes through our collective garage at some point or another. 

Still, they managed to reflect as a group on the cars that impressed them the most over the past 10 years. This isn't a list of the most significant products, or even their highest rated. Instead, these are the ones that keep them up at night; the ones they think about when they close our eyes and daydream. Not that they'd ever do such a thing behind the wheel, of course.

remembering the first Google Android Phone: HTC T Mobile G1

My how things have changed. The original G1 vs. a modern smartphone.

Sarah Tew/CNET

How smartphones evolved to dominate your life

As CNET explored the impact of various gadgets over the past decade, none has changed our lives as dramatically as the smartphone. When the original iPhone launched in 2007, and the first Android phone, the G1, followed the next year, they were still the stuff of enthusiasts with loads of disposable income. But now they're everywhere and "dumb" phones -- or phones that are just for texting and *gasp* calling -- are rare.

Nowadays we take for granted that we have a virtual supercomputer in our pockets. Our iPhones and Android handsets let us hail a car right to our location, draw from a library of hundreds of thousands of television shows and movies stored online, and livestream our silly antics to millions across the world. Even more than your wallet, it's the one thing you can't leave your home without? Executive Editor Roger Cheng, a man who knows cell phones like no other, explains how that happened.

spacex dragon test

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy flew blasts off.


This decade revolutionized how we see space

No, we haven't returned to the moon and humans still haven't walked on Mars, but it's still been an important decade in space. Our list of discovered exoplanets expanded like the universe, we sent probes to Pluto and Saturn's rings, a NASA spacecraft orbited an asteroid, and rovers rolled on the surface of Mars. Heck, we even put a Tesla in orbit.

Of course, a car in space comes courtesy of Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who's been active in space on many fronts. He's taken his startup SpaceX from just another NASA launch contractor to the outfit with perhaps the best shot at making humans a "multiplanetary species," as he likes to say. And speaking of tech billionaires, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' Blue Horizon has its own vision to establish a presence on the moon and in space stations orbiting Earth.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The decade in fiction

Kindles be damned. The book publishing industry has reported several years of growth during the past decade, with physical book sales growth at times outpacing e-books. The themes of the 2010's books won't be surprising to anyone who has flipped on a newscast during the past decade. Anxiety about climate change, the breakdown of social norms, and the consolidation of tech industry and media power in the hands of a few have led to books about embattled survivors struggling against unbelievable odds, virtual worlds that seem more real than our own and a growing trend towards eco-horror.   

Section Editor Dan Ackerman, who cohosts CNET Book Club podcast, compiled a list of some of the most notable fiction from the past 10 years, with an emphasis on books he thinks CNET readers would find interesting, leaning toward speculative fiction (the latest fancy name for sci-fi). So break your reading list and take down these titles.


A Tablet? A computer? Actually, it's both.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Hello, goodbye and hello again, computer

There's no one at CNET besides Senior Editor Scott Stein who could write this story. The last decade has turned our idea of computers inside out -- after all, phones are our computers now -- but in other ways, things are more similar than we ever expected them to be.

Netbooks, ultrabooks , smartbooks and Chromebooks -- they've all changed how we think about the laptop. And today your content likely lives in the cloud than on your hard drive. But despite some new designs with screens that flipped and rotated, ultimately the laptop has largely remained. Tablets have evolved, as well, but any expectations that they might replace laptops completely haven't come to pass. 


During the decade the thermostats grew brains.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The best smart home tech of the decade

While some smart home products existed before the 2010s, this decade ushered in the modern smart home industry -- an entire tech category comprised of thermostats, lights, security cameras and even fridges that do much more than their non-smart predecessors. The explosion of products made it a challenge to pick the best, but it was important homework to accomplish. 

August Smart Lock? Yes. Nest Thermostat? You bet. Amazon Echo? Of course? But those are only a sample of our favorites.


Though small and simple, the electric vastly changed how we get around.

Mike Sorrentino/CNET

Biggest mobility disruptors of the 2010s

What do Tesla, electric scooters, Lyft and the Trump administration have in common? They're all part of a major cultural shift. In the last 10 years, the idea of "mobility" has expanded well beyond the automotive industry to cover all corners of our lives. Cars are still a major part of mobility, but the technological and cultural shifts that have taken place in the 2010s have caused us to rethink many aspects of our lives and how we get around.

With much of the automotive industry spending the first part of the decade clawing back from the pit of the Great Recession, many of these disruptions took place in the latter half of the 2010s. Andrew Krok, an associate news editor at CNET Roadshow, has the full list.

Angela Lang/CNET

The apps that defined the decade

If anything has made phones such an essential part of our lives in the last decade, it's the apps that run on them. Since the iOS App Store and Google Play launched in 2008 with what seemed like mostly novelty titles, they've grown to include millions of choices that help us communicate, meet new people, listen to music and kill pigs with birds. There are even apps that tell you how much time you spend using other apps.

Managing Editor Eric Franklin crowdsourced a list of some of the most influential apps of the decade, a selection that includes Instagram, Flappy Bird, Spotify and Vine. Some of his picks debuted before 2010, but others didn't exist as the decade began.


Steve Jobs introduces the first iPad in 2010.

James Martin/CNET

How 2010's cutting-edge tech shaped the decade

A lot can happen in a decade, particularly in technology. But that pace of change can be confusing. In real time, it often feels glacial: "How do we still not have AR glasses and days-long battery life on our smartphones yet?" But step back and look at tech over a five-year span, and some stark differences quickly emerge. Pull out to a full decade, and the changes are even more dramatic.

Executive Editor John Falcone is just the man to break down the last 10 years and tell us how the top tech in 2010 still affects us today. A longtime veteran of CNET, John has a steel trap mind that can recall every popular gadget and device that debuted during the decade. His look back at 2010 technology is fascinating. We had things like smartphones, Facebook and streaming video services then, but none of them were near the mainstream ubiquity that they are today. Meanwhile, other brands that are gone altogether -- Blockbuster Video, BlackBerry, Nokia and Palm, to name a few -- were still at the top of their game.


We're still feeling the effects of GamerGate today.

Aaron Robinson/CNET

Tech scandals of the decade

There have been so many scandals in tech from the decade that we needed three articles to list them. Remember when the tech blog Gizmodo got ahold of a lost (or stolen?) prototype iPhone 4? And then once it was released that same phone was the center of antennagate? Then there was the great Sony Pictures hack, the fraud of Theranos, GamerGate and a Microsoft bot that started tweeting racist and sexually explicit messages. Executive Editor Ian Sherr tracked them all.


Fly high, Sally Ride.

National Archives and Records Administration

50 people -- and 3 nonhumans -- we lost

Gosh, this was difficult. So many world-changing people have left us during the decade...astronauts, scientists, CEOs, authors, engineers and actors. Rather than try to list them all, we've chosen a select group of 50 humans and three others. They can never be replaced. They can only be remembered. Here are a few that we profiled, but read the whole list of notable names we lost during the decade.

  • Steve Jobs
  • Sally Ride
  • Yvonne Brill
  • Harold Ramis
  • Leonard Nimoy
  • Carrie Fisher
  • Adam West
  • Ursula LeGuin 
  • Lee Iacocca
  • Grumpy Cat

From cruise ships to Pizza Hut, Pepper is everywhere.

Aloysius Low/CNET

Robots have raced ahead in the last 10 years

We're just 16 years from the world depicted in the 2004 film I, Robot where intelligent humanoid almost enslave the human race. Fortunately, that future is still science fiction, but the past decade also brought the most exciting time for robotics we've seen yet. Not only are the robots we're building more advanced than ever, but also we're having discussions about the roles robots should play in our lives, whether they should have rights and what our relationship with them should look like.

The 2010s have given us robots that can care for us, robots that can wow us and, yes, robots that give us the willies. Some are celebrities, some are adorable and others may just save your life in the operating room. European Correspondent Katie Collins profiles our newest robots friends (who, hopefully, will never be foes).


Open Bionics is revolutionizing prosthetics for children.

Open Bionics

6 ways tech improved our world during the decade

We don't blame you for thinking that technology has brought us nothing but pain and division in the last 10 years. Social media is blamed for propagating democracy-destroying hoax news stories and filter bubbles, Airbnb is displacing longtime residents in tourist cities, and nefarious deepfake videos have the power to ruin the lives of both celebrities and private citizens. We can't live without the Internet, but even its inventors are acknowledging its shortcomings and wondering how to fix it.

But amid the turmoil, technology has done plenty of good, as well. It's helped keep people healthy and safe, it's been invaluable for refugees and first responders, and it's made the world more accessible for people with disabilities. Here's a feel good story for those times when tech overwhelms and despairs.


A decade of tech and companies that died

New tech debuts and other tech exits the stage to that great gadget drawer in the sky. How this circle of life plays out happens in different ways. Sometimes a product really does fade away (think 3D TVs ) and other times something else swallows it whole (think how your MP3 player is now your phone). Most of the casualties we mourn for only a few days before turning to the next shiny object, but others (hello, Windows Phone) we may never really get over losing. The list of expired tech is long, but Lori Grunin did an excellent job either respectfully eulogizing them or saying good riddance. Here are a few that she found.


Spike Jonze's ad for HomePod.

Screenshot by Kent German/CNET

Notable tech ads of the 2010s

With tech being so integrated into our lives it's no surprise that tech companies have produced some of the most memorable ads over the past decade. They may not be as memorable as the industry's commercials from the 2000s, when "Dude, you're getting a Dell" was drilled into our heads, along with Verizon's "Can you hear me now?" tagline. And Apple's iPod dancers and Get a Mac (and not a PC) campaigns were among the most popular commercials on TV. 

But the 2010s still delivered some noteworthy TV spots, though we probably skipped over them thanks to our DVRs (or because we cut the cord completely). Spike Jonze directed a spot for Apple's HomePod, Samsung swung at the iPhone and the iSheep who buy it and Groupon showed how not to make a good Super Bowl ad. But one of the best, featuring an "offline oversharer" trying to "unfriend" a person to her face -- didn't come from a tech company at all.


Not just selfies, but also selfie sticks.


These 25 words describe the decade in tech

Selfie, influencer, emoji and cord cutter. These are some of the 25 words, phrases and terms we selected that tell the story of tech since 2010. Some explain deeply complex topics and others, well, are a bit frothier. So break out your dictionary and start marking in the margins, because these are the words added to our lexicon, or gaining new relevance. 


This is only one of the strange things Scott wore on his face.

Sarah Tew/CNET

VR in the 2010s: Good, bad and weird

Chunky goggles, alien glasses, perception-altering devices big and small: Scott Stein has all of them. Though VR as a concept has been around since the 1980s, the last decade has finally put both VR and AR in the hands of consumers. Some of it was good, some of it was bad, and a lot of it was weird. This trend was more than Google Glass or big headsets like the Oculus Rift -- in the summer of 2016, the whole world was obsessed with catching invisible things in parks. 

Over the last 10 years the dream of VR became utterly real. And then, not real. And then half-real. The future arrived, and then backslid, and is now lurking, waiting to strike. Scott tells the story of a decade with lots of things on his face, and how he's not living full time in them ... yet. 


Uber Air wants to make flying cars a real thing.


2020s visions: Flying cars and cloud-based people

If you the last decade brought delivered technology wonders, the decade beginning in 2020 will take us even further toward a world where far-out ideas like hooking brains up to computers -- and even immortality -- become topics of serious conversation. 

Of course, predictions are just that. We won't know if 3D-printed organs, flying taxis and AR contact lenses will become a reality until 2029 comes around. But as CNET contributor Eric Mack writes, it will be an interesting and challenging ride through the next 10 years.


Be careful what you read...and do online.

Josh Miller/CNET

8 life lessons everyone should learn for the 2020s

Gather around class: School's in session. The tech world will be blessed with triumphs and fraught with conflict over the next 10 years, but we can learn from past ups and downs as we charge ahead. They say hindsight is 20/20, and as 2020 begins it's that hindsight we need most now. Let Senior Editor Jessica Dolcourt explain. 

Originally published Dec. 23.