Remember the days when a phone was actually a phone with a cord, and your radio had a dial and a speaker attached? Remember the days when your phone wasn’t on talking terms with your 35mm camera or your record collection? Remember when your car radio would play “Brown Eyed Girl” from the 8-track without inexplicably deciding to quit? Sure, the 8-track tape player may have eaten up your tape once in awhile, but at least you knew EXACTLYwhat had happened and what needed to be fixed. One final memory: when you wanted to write to someone, you just pulled out a pen and pad of paper and never —NOT EVEN ONCE—would the pen or pad get mouthy and try to tell you what you should write or how to spell? There is much to remember fondly about those days.
There were at least four things you could count on back then:
So when did everything start to change?
For our purposes, we decided to focus on the evolution of personal technology, starting with the “big bang” in 1989—the start of the internet. This singular innovation has changed both our technological and cultural environments in ways we couldn’t have imagined.
Please note: we don’t assume that the events we chose to highlight are the entire story, but we do believe that they are useful for us to better understand how we got from there to here—from 1989 to now. From dial phones, Polaroids, and hi-fi stereos, to mobile phones and tablets that do it all. From what felt comfortable and familiar, to what often feels strange and confusing.
WORLD WIDE WEB is invented by Tim Berners-Lee
TimBL’s creation of the WWW is the BIG BANG of the internet universe. 1990 SLIP/PPP (Serial Line Internet Protocol and Point-to-Point Protocol)—the technologies that got everyone on the internet via dial-up modems.
With SLIP, the telephone company can install a modem in your home. The modem uses your phone to connect you with the internet. In 1990, the speed of that connection seems amazingly fast (but compared to today’s speeds, it’s like a snail racing a Boeing 747).
THE BROWSER is brought to market
Because of the browser, everyone has a way to give and get information through the internet. The internet creates the basis for connections; the browser gives us a way to use those connections to communicate. It’s like a light bulb and electricity—the bulb has the capacity to give light, but electricity makes that capacity a reality.
EMAIL becomes a mainstream communication option—“You’ve got mail!”
Businesses and individuals start to use email as a consistent form of convenient communication. Now you have a specific tool to organize your communication. Just as typewriters outperformed pens, email leaves traditional mail in the dust, and you don’t even need a stamp!
PDF (Portable Document Format) file type is created by Adobe
The first effective document sharing innovation PDF is a format that makes it possible to send documents over email. Now you can add attachments to your messages, making it easy to share important files. The introduction of PDFs represents the beginning of the end for fax machines.
USB (Universal Serial Bus)
The USB becomes the standard for all device manufacturers for computer manufacturers to be able to talk to varied devices (e.g., printers, monitors, hard drives, cameras, smartphones) there needed to be a standardized “plug,” or a shared language. Have you found yourself in another country trying to plug in your hairdryer or electric shaver and realize your plug and the receptacles don’t match? Think of USB as that universal adapter that creates the match.
MP3 audio format is created and it changes an entire industry
The MP3 format creates files made from CDs that are small enough to be shared peer-to-peer. Essentially, MP3s enable the content of one CD to be shared hundreds of thousands of times. The impact of this shareable music file format leads to the demise of record companies and brick and mortar record stores as we knew them.
Broadband hits the market, and fast internet service starts to appear in homes
Broadband allows the internet to move from a snail’s pace, to the pace of a 747. It supports the use of “rich media,” which is the inclusion of images, videos, music, and interactive games. With broadband, the internet becomes a newspaper, post office, camera, TV, stereo, information resource, and entertainment center all rolled into one.
Google makes its debut
The internet is dynamic and virtually inexhaustible in what it contains and can provide, but how can people find what they’re looking for within this boundless universe? It’s like having a massive library without any system for identifying or finding what is there (remember the card catalog?). This is where Google first made its name; Google becomes the most popular search engine by understanding us—how we think, and how we go about finding what we want to find.
Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity) comes to existence
Wi-Fi frees people from being tethered to a hard-line connection to get internet service. People can move around freely within the Wi-Fi parameters and be fully connected to the internet. Today, it’s harder to find places without Wi-Fi, than places with it. Now the kids’ most frequently asked question wherever you go is, “What’s your Wi-Fi password?”