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Best of 2021: Developments in Digital

A highway of data on an actual highway

(Editor’s note: With 2o21 drawing to a close, it’s time to look back on the innovations that the year brought us. Read about the great leaps forward in the transportation sector here, and the improvements in healthcare here!)

When it comes to the past year, there’s not been any shortage of digital innovations and developments. In fact, nearly every sector has experienced their own versions of digital trends in 2021. This certainly true for the finance and computing industries, but it’s likewise evident in other areas as well. In this regard, it seems like we’re still in the midst of a digital revolution without any end in sight. And as we come to rely more on AI and machine learning, continued adoption of digital technologies can be expected. In this regard, the year 2021 might be viewed as an inevitable continuation of what began years prior.

Many of the digital trends in 2021 actually began the year previously. The pandemic changed the way we had to interact and conduct our lives. In-person encounters gave way to virtual ones, and online shopping became the norm. The pandemic also identified major gaps in our digital infrastructure that needed to be addressed. This was notably true in education and healthcare that had to suddenly shift to online services. Understanding this, the digital innovations this year are building on the existing foundations started by the pandemic. While most have continued in the same directions, others have not. With this in mind, the following highlights the most notable digital trends in 2021.

  • Evolving Solutions in Cybersecurity and Data Protections

The sum total of stored data in 2021 reached an amazing figure of 43 zettabytes. For clarification purposes, this is equal to a 43 trillion gigabytes, which is an enormous amount of data. But with this growth in data comes serious concerns, especially in relation to cybersecurity. On average, a single breach in data protection costs companies $4.2 million in fines, public relations, ransoms, and patches. Thus, it’s not surprising that one of the digital trends in 2021 involved enhanced cybersecurity solutions. Companies like TripleBlind are introducing digital innovations that better protect data systems. Specifically, they are looking to combine the best features of encryption, blockchain, and tokenization while avoiding their disadvantages. While this trend isn’t necessarily unique to 2021, it’s definitely worth noting given the demand for such solutions moving forward.

  • A Boost for Digital Infrastructure

If there’s one thing the pandemic highlighted, it was the insufficiencies in broadband Internet services throughout the nation. The need for digital innovations in broadband connectivity were found in rural areas and even in low-income urban neighborhoods. But with the recent passage of the Build Back Better infrastructure bill, this will soon change. The bill allows for $65 billion to be allocated to the construction of an extensive broadband network. Companies like Charter, AT&T and Frontier Communications are likewise taking the lead and have started the work already. By year’s end, new broadband service will be available to millions of households. Projections by 2025 suggest this figure will be in the tens of millions. And if SpaceX’s Starlink satellite project is successful, this figure will be even higher. These digital trends in 2021 related to broadband will set the tone for innovation for years to come. (Dig into Bold’s exploration of how the Infrastructure Bill will close the Great Digital Divide in this story!)

  • Riding the 2021 Cryptocurrency Rollercoaster

One of the most notable digital trends in 2021 involves the erratic behavior of cryptocurrency values. The year began seeing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin increase substantially in value only to suddenly decline in the Spring. Then, after a significant recovery, it has recently tumbled again. While many believe cryptocurrencies are digital innovations that are here to stay, they remain nonetheless volatile. This hasn’t stopped companies like PayPal from extending its cryptocurrency exchange to countries like the U.K. Between Chinese restrictions and Elon Musk’s tweets, it’s hard to predict how the cryptocurrency market will behave. And with concerns about the environmental effects of blockchain and potential regulatory oversight in the U.S., volatility will likely continue. But given the continued interest in digital coin, the long-range bet still looks to be in cryptocurrency’s favor.

  • Introducing the Digital ID

One of the most interesting digital innovations of the year involves Apple’s new iOS 15 platform. With this platform, Apple users have the opportunity to create their own Digital IDs on their smartphones. Just as they might do with their credit or debit card, they simple create a Digital ID in their digital wallet. Though it requires signing some disclaimers and recording some face and head movements, the process is about the same. Then, they simply access their Digital ID through touch verification. While these digital trends in 2021 aren’t likely to be the end of a physical wallet, this potential does exist. In years to come, these could become acceptable as actual forms of ID. And this could have implications related to identification security and the frequency with which IDs are checked. Though the Digital ID is early in development, it’s certainly worth staying abreast of any new developments.  (Read more about the rise of digital ID’s in this Bold story.)

  • Shifting Digital Advertising Strategies

In 2020, digital advertising saw a huge increase as consumers began shopping online and streaming from home. Notably, these same digital trends in 2021 continued with global digital advertising revenues increasing from $333 to $389 billion. But as always, the devil’s in the details. One of the more notable changes this year involved a gradual move away from the big players toward smaller media advertising companies. In 2020, Facebook, Google, and Amazon owned about 97 percent of all digital advertising. But in 2021, smaller advertisers offering digital innovations grew by nearly 30 percent. At the same time, some major companies chose to back away from their digital advertising budgets. Some did so because of costs while others chose to because of a lack of ROI. Needless to say, it seems digital advertising strategies are in flux in 2021. It will take a bit more time before it’s clear what these current trends mean.

Some people working on digital stuff
There were a number of digital innovations in 2021, and most of them fit into the palm of your hand.

A Highly Dynamic Digital World

Based on the above, it’s evident a variety of digital innovations have transpired over the year. Catalyzed by the pandemic, it seems the process of digitization has accelerated in a number of industries. The digital trends of 2021 mentioned also fail to address changes related to digital assets, non-fungible tokens, and virtual healthcare innovations. Understanding this, it’s clear that the digital landscape is a highly dynamic one that can be expected to change rapidly. But its momentum is strong and its impact on the future is essentially guaranteed.


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