Gartner Blog Network

The Next Digital Decade? Start with reviewing the prior digital decade

by Mark P. McDonald  |  February 19, 2020  |  Comments Off on The Next Digital Decade? Start with reviewing the prior digital decade

In the five years since I was away from Gartner, the world changed in ways that make the next decade qualitatively different from the past 10 years. We are entering the next digital decade, one where the rules of the last decade are challenged, new rules defined, winners and losers crowned.

Gartner suggests that the next digital decade will be one of  the Digital Society, where technology, interactions and activity merge together and take on new characteristics.  There has always been an intricate relationship between society and technology.

Technology is changing society

We have faced a situation where technology has changed the fundamentals of society before, at the turn of the 20th century. Michael Hugos, the author of the book Enterprise Games, described that situation in a way that captures the necessity for a different way of thinking.  I paraphrase.

“It required the first World War (WW1) to figure out the realities of 20th century technology and drop the pretenses of the prior Victorian era.  I hope it does not require a similar event to shake out of those same pretenses and figure out the realities of the 21st century.” 

The realities of the 21st century are digital realities and its impact on individuals and enterprises.  The prior digital decade provided an opportunity to experience a level of social, commercial and environmental technology intensity and learn from it.   So, what happened in the prior digital decade and how does that experience shape the next.

The prior digital decade  (2008/9 to 2018/19)

The prior digital decade, the one we are finishing now, has been one where society has ‘dropped the pretenses of the Internet Era.’   The pretenses of that era revolved around technology changing the way we live, work and relate to each other to be more equitable, meritocratic and democratic.

The decade starting with a continuation of the ideas of democratizing technology, open source innovation, customer experience and design.  These trends described a future where society benefiting from better products, services and social interactions all brought together and enabled by digital technology.   This was the era of SMAC, social media, mobile, analytics and cloud that were have reshaped society and the world.

As the decade is ending, the world envisioned by these technologies has come true for a few, in ways that people have not expected and with experiences that have led us to drop the pretenses of technology alone being a major positive force in society.  Notice I said technology alone, but it’s hard to make the point the world is significantly better off in 2019 than it was crawling out of the Great Recession.  Here are a few data points that highlight this as a global phenomenon:

  • Market concentration among business platform leaders accelerating. Alibaba has a 58.2% share of retail e-commerce sales in China[1]. Amazon now controls 38% of all retail digital sales in the U.S.[2]. Google controls 92% of online search[3]. This has led politicians and others to call for applying anti-trust regulations to break up large technology companies.
  • Fake news and other forms of harmful speech eroding trust and confidence. The 2017 federal elections in Germany were impacted by fake news[4]. One in four stories on Twitter concerning that election were proven to be false[5]. According to a Pew Research poll in March 2019, 68% of Americans see fake news having a big impact on confidence in the government, 54% see it eroding confidence in each other and 51% in limiting the ability of public leaders to get things done.[6]
  • Economic profits are under pressure. According to McKinsey digitalization is putting downward pressure on EBIT growth of between 4.5 to 10.2%[7]. Workers in the ‘gig’ economy often make below minimum wage when accounting for their fully loaded costs.
  • Technology enabling totalitarian type controls. Concerned about a surveillance society, authoritarian control, the undermining of democratic institutions and protection of individual privacy, etc.
  • Warnings around the impact of Artificial Intelligence, Process Automation and the like. New technologies that have yet to come into the main stream but with the capacity to fundamentally change both society, the nature of work and our economic system.

These points are decidedly negative, but they are also realistic.  While there have been many advances, innovations and improvements, there have also been setbacks, unintended consequences and realities that were presumed to go away.   That is what happens when we drop the pretenses of the past to look at what the next decade can bring.

The Next Digital Decade

The next digital decade is not all doom and gloom.  Please accept this post as a way to think out loud about what has happened, where we stand, etc.  Starting with such a view is important, because in order to change we need to we need to honor the past.  That idea is embodied in technique called reflective reciprocity.  The idea is that the more a team or group goes back to understand what happened, the farther it is able to go into the future.   We need to go into that future with our eyes wide open and our views grounded in facts and grounded reality about the society, economy, etc.  That starts with recognizing what has happened in the last digital decade.

What do you think has happened in the prior digital decade?

Where do you feel we stand as a society, economically, interpersonally?

Now, with those things off your chest, where do we go next?

I will offer a few thoughts in the future posts, but really interested in your thoughts.

Thank You

Related Posts:

Welcome to the Digital Society

While you were away … what to look for now to get a focus on the future

[1]  “Alibaba tops e-commerce market share while facing fresh competition in China.”

[2] EMarketer downgrades Amazon U.S. e-commerce market share.


[4]EU East StratCom Task Force, Means, goals and consequences of the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign, ISPI (Jan 19, 2017),

[5] Maks Czuperski & Ben Nimmo, #ElectionWatch: Final hours fake news hype in Germany, DIGITAL


[6] Pew Research Center. “Many Americans Say Made-up News is a critical problem that needs to be fixed.” , June 5, 2019.

[7]The case for digital reinvention.” McKinsey Quarterly, February 2017.

Additional Resources

View Free, Relevant Gartner Research

Gartner's research helps you cut through the complexity and deliver the knowledge you need to make the right decisions quickly, and with confidence.

Read Free Gartner Research


Mark McDonald
VP Analyst
12 years at Gartner
33 years IT Industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a Vice President and Fellow Emeritus in Gartner for General Managers Program. Read Full Bio

Comments are closed

Comments or opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors only, and do not necessarily represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management. Readers may copy and redistribute blog postings on other blogs, or otherwise for private, non-commercial or journalistic purposes, with attribution to Gartner. This content may not be used for any other purposes in any other formats or media. The content on this blog is provided on an "as-is" basis. Gartner shall not be liable for any damages whatsoever arising out of the content or use of this blog.