Trends of 2021: The year in tech

If 2020 was defined by time spent indoors, in 2021 we were asked to expand our horizons outwards – virtually. We look back at how NFTs and the metaverse took root in culture, how brands got in on the virtual act, and the ways in which creators addressed responsibility in tech

NFT, metaverse, crypto: the Collins Dictionary’s Words of the Year shortlist is revelatory. Where last year’s bleak top spots went to lockdown, self-isolate and furlough, this year’s candidates indicated that we’re looking far beyond the confines of our own four walls – even without physically stepping outside of them.

Ranking first place in Collins’ book this year is NFT, or non-fungible token, which certifies ownership of a digital asset. The tech, which relies on blockchain, flipped the creative industry on its head, with artists, musicians and galleries bending over backwards to mint their creations on the digital marketplace. Beeple’s digital collage broke records earlier this year when it sold for $69.3 million, while everyone from Edward Snowden to Twitter founder and outgoing CEO Jack Dorsey have made sales.

The phenomenon had people divided: will it be liberating, affording creators the revenues they deserve, especially for previously undervalued screen-based work? Or is it a wild west that simply imitates the best – and worst – of the art market? Are we in a new era of correctly attributing value to digital goods, or are these transactions the world’s biggest swindle to have happened in broad daylight?

“From preserving authenticity online and bringing well earned value to digital artists, through to navigating the thorny issue of ownership on the open web and impact on the climate, there will be innovation and unintended consequences in equal measure,” Stink Studios’ James Britton reflected.