From renewables to Netflix: the 15 super-trends that defined the 2010s

It was the decade of austerity, fracking, populism and internet lies. But not everything about the 2010s was terrible

The plastics backlash

Garbage, including plastic waste, is seen at the beach in Costa del Este, Panama City.
Garbage, including plastic waste, is seen at the beach in Costa del Este, Panama City. Photograph: Luis Acosta/AFP via Getty Images

It was once the height of metropolitan chic: the dash into Starbucks for a skinny decaf caramel latte en route for work, the takeaway cup a mark of upward mobility. Those were the days of Sex and the City, when the culture of doing everything “on the go” – eating, drinking, socialising – was taking hold.

But in the past 10 years, in the developed world at least, the accoutrements of a disposable society – the coffee cup, the plastic bag, the bottle of water – have become items of shame as we see them pulled from dead marine mammals, clogging rivers in developing countries or lying on beaches littered with detritus.

Since 2010, more than 120 countries have banned or legislated against the use of plastic bags. European countries, including the UK, have considered levies on takeaway coffee cups and multimillion-pound brands such as Coca-Cola and Nestlé have faced high-profile campaigns designed to get them to clean up their waste. Fast fashion has come under fire too.

These movements are in their infancy and the scale of the problem is still growing. Some companies are taking their own steps, but legislation in Europe will force their minds to focus on reducing their waste footprint. And while images continue to spread across the globe exposing how our lifestyles damage wildlife and the environment, the backlash against a disposable society is likely to continue. Sandra Laville

Women’s rights

Protesters hold placards reading ‘Abolish punishment for abortion’ as they protest South Korean abortion laws in Gwanghwamun plaza in Seoul.
Protesters hold placards reading ‘Abolish punishment for abortion’ as they protest against South Korean abortion laws in Gwanghwamun plaza in Seoul. Photograph: Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

The 2010s were a decade of hard-won progress in gender equality and reproductive rights globally. The launch of a campaign to increase access to modern forms of contraceptive in 2012 has resulted in 53 million more women and girls now using family planning in some of the world’s poorest countries. Two-thirds of countries have achieved gender parity in primary education. And, although the figure is still low, more women are now sitting in parliament than in 2010: 11,340, compared with 8,190.

number of female MPs

The #MeToo and Times Up movements have propelled sexual violence and harassment into the spotlight and young women have become the face of high-profile global campaigns, including the Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai fighting for girls’ education, and Greta Thunberg for action to tackle the climate crisis. One notable campaign was the struggle against female genital mutilation (FGM), which gathered pace through the decade.

But any progress is tempered by statistics that show one in three women globally will experience sexual or physical violence in their lifetime. Efforts by conservative religious groups to roll back women’s rights, particularly sexual and reproductive rights, have intensified and are having some impact. The Trump administration has emboldened these groups by introducing an extreme policy that bans funding to overseas groups doing any work related to abortion.

However, women are mobilising in their tens of thousands to fight the backlash, setting the stage for a turbulent start to a new decade. Liz Ford


A trading post sports the Spotify logo on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Spotify, the No. 1 music streaming service which has drawn comparisons to Netflix, is about to find out how it plays on the stock market in an unusual IPO.
A trading post sports the Spotify logo on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Spotify, the No 1 music streaming service, which has drawn comparisons to Netflix, is about to find out how it plays on the stock market in an unusual IPO. Photograph: Richard Drew/AP

Giving a DVD or CD as a gift in 2010 was commonplace. Not any more. In the past decade, not only has the music industry shifted from CD to MP3 (with a smattering of a cassette and vinyl resurgence thrown in) and TV platforms from live services to on-demand catch-up players, but paid-for streaming is now the unequivocal norm across most of the developed world.

Since Netflix switched its primary business model of DVD rental to streaming in 2010, its user base has soared. The recent release of the $159m Scorsese epic The Irishman amply demonstrates that Netflix has the financing to eclipse even the most established of Hollywood giants for its own content. Other producers are following suit, from Amazon’s Prime Video service, which accounts for over 26 million users, to the BBC and ITV’s new BritBox platform. Streaming has become the default.

The situation is even more marked in the music industry. Since its launch in 2008, Spotify has grown to 248 million monthly active users and is valued at $23bn. Streaming now accounts for more than half of major record label income. As CD sales drop by almost 29% year on year, labels are increasingly relying on streaming as the main platform for their new and established artists, with services such as Apple Music, Tidal and Amazon Music all providing rival alternatives. Even MP3 downloads are dropping by almost 28% each year, a shift exemplified by Apple shutting down its flagship iTunes service to become a part of its streaming platform, Apple Music.

Potential unlimited access to thousands of hours of TV, film and music is clearly a tantalising prospect – not to mention the environmental advantages of moving away from physical products. The access to this information has become more important than ownership. Few predict that the tide of streaming will turn back any time soon. Ammar Kalia

Netflix graphic


High fibre health food concept with fresh vegetables and fruit.
Vegan food is now all but mainstream. Photograph: Marilyn Barbone/Alamy Stock Photo

Ten years ago, being vegan came with a certain social stigma. It was the kind of diet that led to eye-rolls at dinner parties, a limited range of restaurant options and the continuous fielding of the question: “So, what do you eat?”

But over the course of a decade veganism has gone mainstream in the developed world. According to a poll commissioned by the Vegan Society, there are now 600,000 vegans in the UK, up from 150,000 in 2014, as well as millions adopting vegetarian or flexitarian diets. It’s no surprise that companies have been scrambling to make the most of this flourishing new market.

One in six food products launched in the UK in 2018 had a vegan claim and all the major supermarket chains have increased their vegan offerings. Who could forget the nationwide buzz generated by the Greggs vegan sausage roll earlier this year, which flew off the shelves and boosted company profits? Now McDonald’s has announced the launch of its first fully vegan Happy Meal.

Concern over animal welfare, along with a desire to be more environmentally friendly and eat healthily, has largely fuelled the demand, with record numbers signing up to Veganuary every year, from 3,300 in 2014 to 250,000 in 2019. And the trend is not just consigned to food: sales of cruelty-free cleaning products have soared, while Superdrug reported a rise of over 300% in sales of vegan-labelled beauty products from 2015 to 2018.

There are now countless vegan events and dozens of cookbooks, and restaurants from Wagamamas to Pizza Hut offer vegan options; in just a few years, consumer pressure has forced society to accommodate lifestyles free from animal products better than ever before. The shift shows no sign of letting up either, with some reports suggesting that a quarter of the population will be vegetarian by 2025. Jessica Murray


Aerial view of a photovoltaic power generation project on barren hills in Zaozhuang, Shandong Province of China.
A photovoltaic power generation project on barren hills in Zaozhuang, Shandong province, China. Photograph: VCG/Getty Images

In early December, thousands of Britons were paid to charge their electric vehicles or run a laundry load to make use of the record-breaking renewable energy generated by the UK’s wind farms. It is the latest example of how the renewable industry has turned the energy system on its head in the past 10 years.

At the turn of the decade, wind, solar and hydro power projects made up less than 8% of Britain’s electricity. Today, more than a third of the electricity mix comes from the fleet of renewable projects, which have grown fourfold in 10 years. Globally, investors have ploughed $2.5tn into renewables since 2010 to drive its share of the world’s power generation to 12%.

The burgeoning industry’s greatest feat has been to cut the costs of renewable energy technology far faster than expected. A global survey by Bloomberg New Energy Finance found that solar power costs had fallen by over 80% since 2009, while onshore wind had plunged by 46%. In the UK, the cost of offshore windfarms has dropped by half in the past two years alone; they are now cheaper to build and run than fossil-fuel plants.

growth of renewable capacity

The ultra-low cost of renewables means wind and solar farms will spread even faster in the years to come. By 2030, the UK government expects offshore windfarms alone to provide almost a third of the UK’s electricity, with total renewables making up about half of the electricity system. Renewable energy’s greatest decade will light the way for even greater decades ahead. Jillian Ambrose

Mental health

The dukes and and duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex
In 2018, the dukes and duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex narrated a short film to mark the launch of Public Health England’s Every Mind Matters campaign. Photograph: Chris Jackson/PA

It was the decade when we finally turned to face our mental health problems, didn’t much like what we saw – and started to do something about it.

In 2010, depression was still the illness that dared not speak its name: wherever you lived, few people mentioned it in public apart from the occasional brave celebrity outlier. Certainly there were no MPs, chief executives or presidents on the record about their psychological disorders.

By the end of 2019, it’s still not easy to tell the world that there is something not quite right with your brain. But it’s perhaps easier than it has ever been. You may well still face discrimination – particularly if you suffer from one of the rarer conditions that are still taboo, like schizophrenia or borderline personality disorder. But people will understand.

Many family doctors will have a better grasp now than they did 10 years ago (though they may not be able to do much for you). Your workplace will probably have mental health first-aiders, employee assistance programmes and, if they are really smart, psychiatric conditions added to employee insurance policies. Your friends will all know someone who has been through something similar.

What changed? The internet undoubtedly helped (though Googling your symptoms remains a very bad idea): a torrent of blogs, videos and advice columns helped to shed light on the darkness. Campaigns – by British royal family members and mental health charities – cut through. MPs including Charles Walker and Kevan Jones “came out”. Portrayals in TV shows, films and novels multiplied.

The next step is to crack the treatment conundrum. By the end of the 2020s, mental ill-health will be so common that it may even become the rule rather than the exception. But it will still feel like the most dreadful thing that can ever happen to a human, and the demand for services will have gone up, not down. Mark Rice-Oxley

Rethinking gender

Attendees of Trans Pride march holding signs reading: 'Non-binary finery', 'Trans lives matter' and 'Trans rights now'
Thousands of transgender people and allies took part in London’s first ever Trans Pride march in September 2019. Photograph: Wiktor Szymanowicz/Barcroft Media

At the start of the 2010s, transgender people did not exist in the mainstream. They were portrayed by cisgender actors in Hollywood, excluded from US and UK gay rights groups and denied basic legal recognition. But now, trans and non-binary people are stars on screen and breaking barriers in media, politics, sports, courtrooms, science and other industries.

In 2013, the US whistleblower Chelsea Manning came out as trans and became a global LGBTQ+ icon. In 2014, the actor Laverne Cox graced the cover of Time magazine, which declared a “transgender tipping point”. Caitlyn Jenner came out the following year.

While cis male actors repeatedly won awards for playing trans women in the first half of the decade and beyond, this kind of casting eventually became untenable; in 2018, Scarlett Johansson dropped a role as a trans man amid massive backlash, while Tangerine, A Fantastic Woman, Pose and other projects raised the bar by giving trans actors leading roles.

Celebrities such as Indya Moore, Asia Kate Dillon and Sam Smith also came out as non-binary, pushing mainstream awareness of gender-nonconforming people, who have long existed in cultures around the world.

With expanded societal and scientific recognition that gender is fluid, states across the US passed laws allowing people who are neither female nor male to mark a “third gender” on IDs. Germany, Nepal, Austria and other countries also expanded gender options. Teens increasingly rejected gender labels and intersex rights activism blossomed.

There has been a dark side to the progress: unprecedented assaults on LGBTQ+ rights and increasing reports of violence, harassment and discrimination, particularly against trans women of colour. The decade of visibility and backlash has set the stage for continued civil rights battles – with growing movements of trans and non-binary people organising to fight back. Sam Levin in Los Angeles

Women’s football

England Lionesses celebrating the first goal during an international friendly between England and Spain in April 2019.
England’s Lionesses celebrating the first goal during an international friendly between England and Spain in April 2019. Photograph: NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A decade of steady quantitive growth for women’s football in England has been studded with qualitative leaps in the sport’s development.

In 2011, the FA launched the Women’s Super League and moved the game out of the shadow of the men’s into the summer. It was a bold step and reaped instant rewards. The average attendance of 550 in that first season was an increase of 604% on the previous season average. At the decade’s close, that average had reached 4,112.

The English national team, the Lionesses, have provided the biggest public window into the game, with consistent showings through the decade. That has generated a surge in the number of women and girls playing football: there are now more than 11,000 registered teams and more than 2.6 million women over 16 playing at one level or another.

This is all a result of multimillion-pound investment from the FA and commercial partners. In 2018, the FA announced an additional investment of £50m in the women’s game over six years. A league sponsorship deal with Barclays is believed to include investment of as much as £20m.

There is a real momentum behind women’s football. Professionalism means the product on the pitch has improved dramatically and a home Euros to help start the decade off in 2021 is likely to be another moment that propels the sport forward. Suzanne Wrack


A woman vaping in a street.
A woman vaping in a street. Photograph: Artyom Geodakyan/TASS

The jury is still out on whether vaping will take over from more traditional methods of consuming tobacco but, in terms of pure numbers, it was indisputably one of the trends of the decade.

The first e-cigarette is credited to a Chinese pharmacist called Hon Lik, who said he invented it after his father died of lung cancer. Those that arrived in the UK in 2006 were described as cigalikes, devices heating nicotine to produce inhalable vapour but still masquerading as cigarettes.

Measurement of e-cigarette use began in 2012, at a time when less than half the adult population of the UK had heard of them. In that year, there were 700,000 users (1.7% of the population). In 2019, that had grown to 3.6 million (7.1%). According to ASH (Action on Smoking and Health), just under 2 million of today’s vapers are ex-smokers, 1.4 million are current smokers and 200,000 have never smoked. The reason most often given for vaping is to quit smoking. Most public health experts in the UK, with some notable exceptions, think e-cigarettes could save lives. Nicotine is strongly addictive but not proven to do harm, whereas the smoke and tar from tobacco kill up to half of those who use cigarettes.

But e-cigarettes have developed a bad name in the US, at first because of Juul, a stylish device looking like a USB stick that took off among high-school pupils. It contains three times the level of nicotine permitted in Europe. A panic among parents and teachers became a national scare when reports began to pile up of adult vapers with lung diseases. As of mid-November, the authorities have reported 2,172 cases of lung injury and 42 deaths.


If e-cigarettes can weather the storm and irrefutable data is collected to show they are a big help in quitting smoking, they could still have a bright future. But after such reputational damage, the adolescents of 2030 may be asking: “Vaping – what was that?” Sarah Boseley


Spectators use smartphones, trying to capture images of the royal motorcade in Tokyo
Spectators use smartphones, trying to capture images of the royal motorcade in Tokyo. Photograph: Naoya Osato/AP

The technical specification says it all. In 2010, the top-of-the-line iPhone 3GS had a 480-pixel-high screen, 32GB of storage and a 3-megapixel camera. Going into 2020, the equivalent iPhone 11 Pro has a 12-megapixel camera, 512GB of storage, and about 17 times the pixels in the screen. We’ve dropped the “smart”, too, and the “mobile”. It’s just a phone now and it lies at the heart of everything.

It also costs £1,400. That, more than anything else, shows the real change that smartphones have wrought over the past decade: from an optional extra, sold to boost the value of phone contracts, to the core of modern life. Apple can charge such a price because phones are firmly established as central to productivity, to entertainment, to communication and to education.

The proliferation of phones across the globe is one of the stories of the decade. There are an estimated 3.2 billion smartphone users worldwide, a penetration rate of 42%. That spread – overwhelmingly on Google’s Android operating system – has let countries leapfrog previously essential stages of development: from sub-Saharan Africa, where mobile internet is crucial to economic development even though fixed lines are still scarce, to China, where cashless stores are more common than in the US despite a 10th of the take-up of credit cards.

In the developed world, phones have killed the concept of “being online”. Once, the internet was a place you sat down to connect to. Now, we’re all online all the time, and the reality-distorting effects are bleeding over into meatspace. Misinformation on Twitter makes the front pages; CGI-Instagram influencers are licensed for fashion ads.

That change will last. Phones may alter unrecognisably over the next decade, with smart glasses, voice assistants and wearables taking more of the interactions, shrinking the phone down to an always-on and always-on-you hub. But the blending of realities is here to stay. Alex Hern

smartphones chart

Social media

Balinese young girl take a selfie during a New Year celebration in Denpasar, on Indonesia’s resort island of Bali.
A Balinese girl take a selfie during a new year celebration in Denpasar on the Indonesian resort island. Photograph: Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP/Getty Images

In 2010, the traditional media ecosystem was fraying but largely intact: television still attracted big ratings, print newspaper sales were struggling but had yet to fall off a cliff and many people still used traditional phones that could do little more than call and text. Although we were spending increasing amounts of time online, people still generally accessed Facebook through the site on a desktop computer. Instagram was in its infancy. Twitter was still quite niche.

But as smartphone usage took off in the early part of the decade, everything changed. Suddenly, checking a social network turned from something that took place a maximum of a few times a day, perhaps on your lunch break when the boss wasn’t looking, into an addictive habit. With people constantly checking Facebook, new ways of communication – and new formats of conveying news – took hold. As hundreds of millions spent more time on these networks, the advertising cash followed them. By the end of the decade the social network that started as outsiders had grown into lightly regulated behemoths. Their algorithms exerted enormous influence over commerce, the media, and politics. They were credited with anything from allowing small businesses to flourish to undermining journalism and helping extremists to gain power.

Social media

Whether the same social networks continue to exert the same amount of influence in 2030 depends on two things. First, whether governments have the political will to regulate or break up these companies. And, second, and potentially more damaging, whether they can convince the public to keep using them and not spend their time elsewhere. One scary lesson for Mark Zuckerberg is that no one is talking about the risk MySpace poses to democracy. Jim Waterson


Pipes for the proposed Dakota Access oil pipeline, that would stretch from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Patoka, Ill., are stacked at a staging area in Worthing, S.D.
Pipes for the proposed Dakota Access oil pipeline, which would stretch from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois, are stacked at a staging area in Worthing, South Dakota. Photograph: Nati Harnik/AP

The shale revolution has made the unthinkable inevitable. In the blink of a decade, fracking has transformed the US from an energy-hungry importer to one of the world’s most important energy producers. The US is poised to enter the 2020s as a net exporter of oil and gas for the first time since records began.

At the centre of the boom in shale oil and gas was a technology breakthrough. Across the US shale heartlands in Texas, North Dakota and New Mexico, hydraulic fracturing unlocked vast reserves of oil and gas trapped in unyielding layers of shale. It was an engineering feat that has upended global energy markets and rewritten the rules of geopolitics.

The impact has been profound. By declaring its energy independence, the US has claimed its right to step back from the instability in the Middle East in favour of a US-first diplomatic policy. It has ignited a surge in manufacturing, which has helped fuel trade tensions with China. It has hardened the stance against the climate agenda, oiling the US exit from the Paris climate agreement. Since 2010, the amount of shale oil and gas produced has increased sixfold.

Within the first half of the decade, the rise of North America’s upstart frackers triggered the start of the most severe oil market downturn on record. By the second half of the decade the Opec oil group determined its production policy around the prospects of US frackers. Today, the world’s biggest oil companies have staked multibillion-dollar investments on their claim to the next phase of the US shale era.

There is yet to be a convincing successor to the US shale boom elsewhere in the world and with good reason. Environmental concerns, densely populated areas and fierce public opposition have kept frackers at bay across Europe. Efforts to ignite a US-style shale boom in Argentina have been slow to gain traction but may soon take off. Jillian Ambrose


A woman walks past riot police during clashes with protestors December 15, 2010 in Athens, Greece.
Riot police at the ready during clashes with protesters in December 2010 in Athens, Greece. Photograph: Miloš Bičanski/Getty Images

Austerity has defined the decade. Trillions of dollars may have been pumped into the banks to reboot global growth across the developed world but cuts to public spending and welfare benefits, rather than Keynesian stimulus, was the remedy adopted by western governments battered by the worst economic shock since the great depression.

In Britain, cuts imposed by the Conservatives determined the 2010s, fuelling political dissatisfaction that led to the Brexit vote. But the austerity drive spread around the world. Greece was at the centre during the eurozone sovereign debt crisis, as markets feared contagion for other euro-area nations, known together as the PIIGS: Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain.

Austerity was the condition attached to international bailouts to stop the rot. Cutting the way to prosperity was all the rage. The belief was that governments could mend their finances while central banks rebooted economic growth by cutting interest rates to zero and firing up the quantitative-easing money press.

The trick worked to a degree, stopping the last recession from turning into another great depression. The US has enjoyed the longest uninterrupted stretch of growth in modern history.

But austerity dismantled the mechanisms that reduce inequality. The 2010s mark the weakest economic expansion on record, wage growth has stalled, the public realm lies in tatters, improvements in living standards are stagnating, politics has shattered into extremes and the world economy remains on life support. A third of young people are still out of work in Greece, where the economy remains a quarter smaller than in 2007. More than 14 million in Britain are struggling in poverty.

Austerity dogma is fading and increasingly regarded a mistake. But after defining the past decade, it will still influence the next. Government spending is starting to rise to repair the damage, but trust in establishment politicians to deliver is shot. The 2010s incubated more radical ideas that will colour the 2020s, while the consequences of austerity will continue to be felt. Richard Partington


Migrants and refugees stand in line as they wait to board a train at the registration camp after crossing the Macedonian-Greek border near Gevgelija on September 28, 2015.
Migrants and refugees waiting to board a train at a registration camp after crossing the Macedonian-Greek border near Gevgelija in September 2015. Photograph: Armend Nimani/AFP/Getty Images

In 2010, migration was much less visible on the global agenda, other than in central America and parts of south-east Asia. Today it is a pressing issue on most continents.

There are currently more than 272 million people around the world living outside their country of birth3.5% of the global population. This is an increase of 51 million since 2010. It shows that the rise in the global number of migrants has outpaced the increase in the world’s population but perhaps not by as much as political rhetoric suggests. Forced migration – meaning refugees and asylum seekers – has risen much faster than voluntary movement of people seeking better opportunities. One in seven migrants is younger than 20.

Despite the global compacts on migration and refugees adopted last year – and despite the broad benefits that migration often brings – the issue is arguably more politically sensitive than at any point since the end of the second world war. Governments across Europe and in the US and Australia have put up fences and forced back people seeking refuge.

Migration patterns are tough to predict since they reflect evolving crises and instability but also longer-term societal changes in demographics, economic development, transport access and connectivity. There is every indication, though, that rising population, climate pressure, food insecurity and conflict mean migration will remain as potent an issue through the 2020s. But evidence does not support a dramatic rise in either the number or proportion of migrants.

The latest UN projections suggest zero net migration between now and 2050, which would mean migrants would remain at about 3.17% of a global population of 9.8 billion. Lucy Lamble


President Donald Trump meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
President Donald Trump meets the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, at the United Nations general assembly in New York. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

When G20 world leaders gathered in London in April 2009, only one politician – Silvio Berlusconi – could justifiably have been called a rightwing populist. Fast-forward a decade, and three of the four largest democracies on the planet now have far-right populists at the helm: Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Narendra Modi in India and Donald Trump in the US.

In Europe, radical-right populist parties are rarely winning elections but they are securing more votes, more seats in parliament and more power-sharing roles in coalition governments than at any time since the second world war. In the two western countries that arguably suffered most under the rule of 20th-century fascists – Germany and Spain – far-right parties using populist rhetoric are the third-largest parties in parliament. And they control the government in Poland and Hungary – the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has gone a long way toward his goal of transforming the EU country into what he hopes will be an “illiberal democracy”.

European vote share held by populist parties

Political scientists do not agree how we got ourselves into this hole, and are even less sure about how we can scramble out. Many explanations for the “causes” of the rightwing populist wave point to the effects of financial crisis of 2008, the September 11 attacks (and the security clampdown that followed) and, in Europe, the so-called migrant crisis in 2015, which brought into focus long-simmering unease over mass migration.

Others point to the dominance of a neoliberal economic order – implemented not just by conservatives but also those who identified as centre-left – and paving the way to rampant globalisation and inequality. But no one should discount the impact of a technological era, which has rewired the entire information ecosystem, eroding trust in institutions and rewarding the kind of angry, tribal, divisive and sensational political debates in which rightwing populist thrive. Paul Lewis

What will be the great trends of the 2020s? Let us know your thoughts by emailing


Sandra Laville, Liz Ford, Ammar Kalia, Jessica Murray, Jillian Ambrose, Mark Rice-Oxley, Sam Levin, Suzanne Wrack, Sarah Boseley, Alex Hern, Jim Waterson , Richard Partington, Lucy Lamble and Paul Lewis

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