So I got into mild trouble over on twitter about a suggestion that the 2010s were a decade of technological disappointment.
I’m comparing this to two abnormal decades – the 90s and 00s – that saw technology change pretty much every aspect of western, well-to-do life. The platforms and concepts built during this period still exist now, of course – but are either in stasis or in decline depending on your point of view.
I was 18 in 1996. Here’s a quick list of technologies that have changed my life between then and 2010.
- Ubiquitous mobile telephony (1995-2001)
- Ubiquitous internet access. (1997-2000)
- The (usable) laptop (2000)
- Home broadband. (2000-2003)
- Ubiquitous wireless (2005)
- The rise and fall of magnetic data storage (1995-2005)
- The rise and fall of optical data storage (2000-2010)
- The rise and fall of portable, handheld, data storage (2005-2015)
- The smartphone – constant internet access, multifunction personal computing (2007)
- Web 2.0, interactivity and social media (2002)
- Search engine and electronic indexing technology (1998)
- e-Commerce/online shopping (1998)
- Using online tools for personal administration (civic interaction/banking/etc) (2000-04)
- Ubiquitous satellite navigation (2005-2010)
- The MP3 player (1998-2008)
- Subscription music services (2008)
These are all things that were either impossible or impossibly expensive when I was 18 and are within reach of my desk in 2020. The internet, clearly, is the big trend-starter – the platform for change if you will.
I’m trying to come up with a similar list for the years between 2010 and 2020, and I’m failing. Electric cars are a far more advanced version of the milkfloats I remember from the 80s – and hybrid technology has to be a contender. But the ipad is just a big smartphone (or a small laptop). The Large Hadron Collider is pretty awesome, but has yet to have an impact on my life. LED lighting is about as close as I can get, but LEDs date back to the early 60s so I’d be arguing for Cerium doped Phosphor LEDs, which feels a bit niche. Someone genuinely suggested Pokemon Go – I was rather taken aback.
But for a decade where tech hype – big data! AI! Chatbots! Personal genetic sequencing! Sodding blockchain! Everything Audrey Watters writes about! – has been everywhere I’m struck by how similar the technological world is to 2005 (though the cultural and political world is very, very different). What have I missed?
- Reached widespread use between 2010 and 2020
- A person from 2005 would be genuinely taken aback by it.
- Has a clear day-to-day impact on our lives.