Web3, Ransomware Attacks, Facebook and Apple Woes Defined Tech’s 2021

Composition image of Flipboard's Year in Tech Review 2021

With the dawn of a new year approaching, let’s look back at what’s changed in the world of tech over the past 12 months. In my role as the Senior Editor for Technology and Science at Flipboard, I’m always paying attention to emerging story trends impacting the industry. Since 2018, I’ve analyzed the headlines to extract major themes that I believe illustrate what kind of year it’s been. Each collection is obviously different and some themes overlap, though being highlighted in a particular year signifies how prominent it has become.

That being said, I’m excited to share that I’ve published the 2021 Year in Tech Review and this post provides a bit of thinking into how I produced this latest project for Flipboard.

Tech’s Year in Review

These are the collection of headlines that I believe paint a good picture of what happened in tech. The list below is in no specific order and you can click on each one to read what I’ve curated on Flipboard. I’ll be explaining each one more in-depth later in this post.

You can also read my write-up about my 2021 Year in Review on Flipboard.

  1. The popularity of the Blockchain, Bitcoin, NFTs and DAOs
  2. The gadgets that launched this year
  3. The biggest ransomware and cyberattacks of 2021
  4. Apple’s growing antitrust battles
  5. The Facebook Papers
  6. The battle to commercialize space
  7. The rise of the metaverse
  8. Beijing cracks down on Chinese tech companies
  9. Tech workers fight to unionize
  10. Jeff Bezos steps down as Amazon CEO

The Rationale

How do you take 365 days of tech and boil it down to ten themes to provide a fairly accurate representation of what happened to innovation? Selecting them was straightforward, for the most part. Blockchain, Bitcoin, NFTs and DAOs — or perhaps better known collectively as Web3 — was what everyone practically talked about. It was similar for the metaverse.

The Facebook Papers, leaked by whistleblower Frances Haugen, also dominated the headlines. Though federal regulators didn’t really do anything about Apple’s alleged App Store monopoly, the marketplace faced more scrutiny this year, especially thanks to Epic Games’ antitrust lawsuit being decided.

Cyberattacks have been around for years, but this year we saw more dangerous breaches, including ransomware attacks on a national oil pipeline, a leading IT software provider and on COVID-19 vaccine makers. Under the first year of the Biden administration, did the U.S. take any action against the hackers?

Elon Musk’s SpaceX ushered in a new age of space travel last year, but 2021 saw fellow billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos join him with their successful crewed launches. More civilians are going into space, but what good is it doing for the Earth?

Of course, we can’t put together a roundup of tech without looking at the gadgets that hit store shelves, right? Don’t think we need an explanation for this one, right? 😉

The last three took a bit more thinking, but while they weren’t necessarily big attention-grabbing news items, they did play a part in defining what’s happening in tech.

In China, there’s a shift in how Beijing views Chinese-founded tech companies, of which quite a few have gone public and become dominant in their respective fields. Regulators have implemented policies designed to bring Didi, Tencent, Alibaba and others back into line and remind them who’s in charge: the Chinese Communist Party. The government has also limited how data can be shared by platforms, banned cryptocurrency mining, and more.

Back in the U.S., organized labor is taking its fight to proverbial Silicon Valley. This year, we saw more workers launch initiatives to unionize, though the efforts have been difficult. Perhaps most notable has been those workers at an Amazon warehouse facility in Alabama — the initial campaign failed but another is in the works after the National Labor Relations Board ruled Amazon illegally interfered in the first vote.

Finally, we bid adieu to Jeff Bezos as the leader of Amazon. Though CEOs come and go, his departure after nearly 30 years is a big mark of 2021. It’s worth noting especially after how Bezos transformed the company from an online bookstore to being a dominant e-commerce marketplace and a vital part of the internet’s infrastructure.

Looking Forward to 2022

Usually, with season finales, you’re left with some conclusions to storylines. And then there are cliffhangers to try and entice you to watch the next episode. That’s what we have here…

Almost all of these themes will continue to evolve over the next year, specifically around Web3, the metaverse, cyberattacks, the private space race, and Apple’s antitrust battles — along with anything around regulating tech, for that matter.

If you want a more detailed dive into why these themes were selected, read the blog post I penned for Flipboard.

By Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a journalist fascinated with the tech industry and internet culture. He's currently Flipboard's Assistant Managing Editor, overseeing news curation in technology, science, gaming and health. In addition to his day job, Ken's the co-host of "The Created Economy" podcast, examining the Creator Economy. In a past life, he was a former reporter for VentureBeat and The Next Web, covering tech startups, the industry's innovations and funding.