Our to-watch list has grown so long over the last several years, and our acceleration rate through it has so steadily declined, that we only recently managed to finish the first season of Atlanta, which was excellent, as promised.
Several of the storylines from this season — which was produced over five years ago now — revolved around the use of social media, particularly Instagram. I emphasize the age of the episodes in question because it struck me, as I watched, that none of the social media jokes had aged at all.
In fact, I remarked during one episode, in which a young wanna-be influencer tries to pick an online fight with Paper Boi for the sole purpose of attracting eyeballs, that a TV show being produced in 2021 would seem just as timely today if it used the exact same jokes and the exact same subplots (at least in terms of the technology and social media interactions), with perhaps just a couple of word or slang changes.
Yet, I could not imagine the same show being produced five years earlier (in 2011); at that point it wouldn't have made any sense. At some point in the first half of this decade, we reached a social media saturation point where the applications might change a little (emergence of TikTok, etc.) but the ways in which we Americans interact with each other, through phone apps, and the things with which we are obsessed, e.g. brand-focused "celebrity," haven't changed very much at all.
Nowadays, when most of us speak of "technology" (or "Big Tech"), we aren't really talking about technology; we are specifically referring to Facebook, Google, Twitter, Amazon. Sometimes Apple, although we still think of Apple as primarily a device manufacturer, while the other companies (even if they may dabble in devices) are primarily known for consumer software. (In a blog post today, Alan Jacobs quoted Dan Wang as saying, "I find it bizarre that the world has decided that consumer internet is the highest form of technology . . . A large population of people who play games, buy household goods online, and order food delivery does not make a country a technological or scientific leader.")
To me it seems obvious that smartphones, as devices, and the application ecosystems that emerged to serve them, were "innovative" in a very tangible sense. It's not surprising that a show from 2016 might have a different "technology" story to tell than a show from 2011. But it is surprising, or at least it was to me at first, to imagine that the same 2016 story could feasibly be told again in 2021.
As Jacobs also points out, "[t]he idea that Silicon Valley is meaningfully innovative" is merely the product (and a very successful one) of a PR machine.