It’s a tired trope to say each year was the worst. It’s the result of recency bias, and if we’re all being intellectually honest with ourselves, we know that it's universally accepted that 536 narrowly edges out 1349 as the worst year ever. The last decade may have broken our sense of time, but never have I felt so shocked when I realized that happened this year. All years are “bad” in their own way, but 2022 was different. This year in tech was defined by a parabolic whiplash effect: It went and did a 180 on us.
The dramatic implosion of crypto
At the beginning of the year, crypto was brimming with promise and buzz. It was the hot trend of February’s Super Bowl ads: Larry David appeared as a skeptic in a commercial for FTX, LeBron James shilled for Crypto.com, and Coinbase and eToro also spent ungodly sums promoting themselves. It finally felt like cryptocurrency had reached a tipping point where it was no longer just for nerds and criminals — it was for the masses.
Riding that wave was the NFT boom. NFTs had started to seem inescapable the previous fall, but by the beginning of 2022, they had finally entered the mainstream. In January, Paris Hilton appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and the two talked about their Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs. Meanwhile, Seth Green planned an entire TV series based on his Bored Ape (which was stolen, then later returned). Sure, plenty of people were highly skeptical of NFTs, since spending $200,000 or more on a monkey JPG didn’t totally seem to make sense as an investment vehicle, but at the start of 2022, that could all be waved away as “FUD” (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) or with the taunt “Have fun staying poor.”
Ironically, Larry David’s character in that FTX Super Bowl ad turned out to be right after all.
Then, everything changed — drastically. The spring brought “crypto winter,” in which the value of cryptocurrency plummeted. Bitcoin started the year valued at around $47,000 and has now dropped to around $17,000. Many NFT projects were abandoned or shuffled along. The floor price for Bored Apes now hovers around $88,000, down from around $260,000 in February. Perhaps a sign of the loss of shine on NFTs is that a recent set of official Donald Trump NFTs was advertised merely as “trading cards.”
Public perception of crypto cratered even more dramatically. The recent catastrophic collapse of FTX and arrest of its founder Sam Bankman-Fried on fraud charges threatens to destabilize the entire ecosystem. FTX customers lost serious amounts of money — as much as $8 billion in deposits. But the biggest fallout may be that Bankman-Fried, who was on his way to becoming a household name, seems to have given the skeptics a win: It sure all does seem a little like a Ponzi scheme, doesn’t it? Ironically, Larry David’s character in that FTX Super Bowl ad turned out to be right after all.
Tech layoffs and Meta’s decline
The entire US economy took a dip this year, and tech companies saw their stocks drop dramatically along with it. In the second half of the year, big tech firms like Amazon, Meta, Snap, Salesforce, Lyft, and more had layoffs. Across the industry, an estimated 150,000 tech jobs have been shed in 2022, according to the site Layoffs.fyi. For workers who came from outside the US to pursue the American dream of lucrative and prestigious tech jobs, these cuts were especially brutal, since laid-off visa holders had to get new jobs within 60 days or leave the country.
No fall was perhaps as dramatic as that of Meta, whose stock has plunged 67% from the start of the year. In February, the company announced that, for the first time ever, Facebook’s user numbers had gone down. In November, Meta cut 11,000 jobs and shut down production of Portal, its video-chatting device, as well as wearables it was developing. CEO Mark Zuckerberg attributed the cuts partly to overexpansion during the pandemic.
Instagram suffers from having the millennial stink of filtered brunch photos and influencer aesthetic, which is seen as corny and old by Gen Z.
Meta was also uniquely vulnerable to Apple’s new policy that limited user data collection, which hamstrung its targeted advertising business. Apple’s privacy feature started in 2021, and it's estimated that it cost Facebook $10 billion in ad revenue.
Something felt significant about Meta — previously a juggernaut that prized growth at any cost — stumbling. Facebook at 18 years old has failed to catch on with younger people. Instagram, once the hip younger sibling, has also lost ground to TikTok. Instagram suffers from having the millennial stink of filtered brunch photos and influencer aesthetic, which is seen as corny and old by Gen Z.
Over the summer, Instagram tweaked its feed to show more Reels — a blatant attempt to try to catch up to TikTok. Celebrities like Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian revolted, calling on Instagram to “stop trying to be TikTok.” And as Snap can tell you, when you’ve lost Kylie Jenner, you’ve got a problem. The head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, addressed the controversy in an apologetic video and promised to roll back some of the changes.
For the first time, there is a feeling that Meta is vulnerable — that Facebook and even Instagram might just...fade away, to be replaced by TikTok or BeReal or whatever the new thing is next year. We don't really know what it would look like to have a mature social network die out, and the Myspace analogy doesn’t really fit here. As Ryan Broderick wrote in his Garbage Day newsletter, addressing the possibility of Twitter going away, things could start to get really weird first.
Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover
Speaking of social networks dying and things getting really weird first, the most obvious 180-degree turn from “normal” to “straight to hell” was Twitter. The year started out with Twitter being a normal company, run by normal people. The complaints about the platform were normal and the same as they had been for a few years — there were various moderation issues, and users whined about an edit button.
Then, well, everything happened. Starting in April, Elon Musk bought 9% of the company; accepted then rejected a board seat; made an offer to buy the whole company; tried to back out of that offer and almost went to court; and eventually went through with the deal for $44 billion. Let that sink in.
Musk has managed in just two months to turn Twitter from whatever Twitter used to be into a place where people only talk about Twitter.
By November, he had laid off over half the staff, scared off advertisers, and had a disastrous launch of the platform’s $8-per-month subscription product. He made up new and mercurial moderation rules, suspending then unsuspending celebrities like Kathy Griffin who changed their display name to “Elon Musk” and suspending then unsuspending journalists who reported on an account that tracked his private jet. He made a new rule that no one could ask people to follow them on Instagram or other social platforms, then mostly took it back.
If nothing else, Musk has managed in just two months to turn Twitter from whatever Twitter used to be into a place where people only talk about Twitter.
We got some nice things, too
There were also good 180s that happened this year! Artificial intelligence made huge and impressive growth, with consumer tools blowing people’s minds. ChatGPT became good enough to write a passable AP English essay, and the Lensa image app, which generates avatar images based on selfies, went viral (along with some debate about the ethics of AI art). The blossoming of new social platforms, like the anti-influencer photo-sharing app BeReal and Twitter alternative Mastodon, were unexpectedly nice things to happen in 2022.
Technology is exciting because it’s supposed to change and grow and evolve. Each year should have new and unexpected things (ideally good ones). That’s what makes people want to become coders and designers and engineers — the idea of creating something that could change the world within 12 months.
That’s why we keep logging on each day to find out what’s happening. This should be exciting! But here’s my plea to the tech world for 2023: Maybe just make some incremental changes. Let’s not flip everything upside down again. As someone who has to write about this for a living, I’m exhausted.