Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Decade of Technology

Sorry that I wasn't able to put together a post this week, but between unpacking from last week and getting ready for my trip to India next week, I've been slammed. I have, however, put together a rough draft of a Toastmasters speech I'm going to be delivering next week, so I thought I'd share before I start cutting it down. Enjoy and Happy New Year!

If someone asked you how you’d characterize the 2000s, what would you say? The 60s had civil rights and the Vietnam War, the 70s had disco and Star Wars, and the 80s had terrible hair styles and the birth of yours truly. The hosts of the trivia game I participate in every week claim that it was the worst decade ever, but I disagree. I think the past decade was dominated by rapid advancements in technology. Instead of the flying cars and humanoid robots we were promised we got iPhone apps and Rickrolled (should I play the Rick Roll video on my Pre at this point? Alternate joke: lonelygirl15), but the combination of developments from the decade has created a very different world from the world of 1999. I humbly ask for your ears so I can prove it to you.

In the year 2000, a little product called TiVo hit the market and gradually gained a base of enthusiastic users, including myself as of last year. The importance of TiVo is evident in the fact that it has become synonymous to the term “DVR” to the layman much like soda has become “Coke”. It gave control of the living room to the consumer in a way that VCRs always fell short of and paved the way for other set-top boxes, like Roku, which are what helps the Amazon Video on Demand business grow, among other things. This idea of control versus watching shows on a schedule also helped give way to audio and video podcasts, and we now stand on the brink of a world where traditional television is dying.

That wasn’t the only box connected to people’s TVs in 2000 that has had a long-lasting effect on history as we know it: the PlayStation 2, or PS2, was also released. The PS2 has grown in popularity to the best-selling console of all time and is still selling fairly well. I’d argue that this is the console that really helped bring video games into the mainstream moreso than any console before it and even lured away many PC gamers who traditionally felt that console hardware was somewhat weak. More importantly though, the PS2 was truly the first device to successfully pioneer the idea of a multifunctional home entertainment system since it also played CDs and DVDs.

From the comfort of your living room, let’s move to the palm of your hand with Handspring, which was later acquired by Palm. In 2003, the Palm Treo 600 was released and blew the door off the mobile computing world. Here was a device that had a touchscreen interface, e-mail, Internet, a camera, and third-party applications, all in addition to a great text messaging interface. It wasn’t the first smartphone, but it was the first smartphone to get it right and fostered the first true mobile platform developer community around Palm OS. Without the Treo 600 there would be no iPhone, and without the iPhone there would be no Pre or Droid or any other nifty smartphone you probably have in your pocket right now and use for everything but making calls. The world has moved away from the personal computer being at the center of our technological lives to the smartphone being at the core of it, and you get to tell your grandchildren that you lived through that.

A general theme that has naturally come out of all these advances is that they focus on improving the life of the average person, which actually gives rise to a collection of technologies that has become popularly known as user-generated content. MySpace was probably the first to take off in this category with its launch in 2003 as a social networking site – a place for people to come together and waste copious amounts of time. It was followed up shortly thereafter by Facebook in 2004. Also in 2004 though we saw the birth of Flickr, which popularized the idea of a community around hobbyist photography. Then, in 2005, we were graced with the phenomenon known as YouTube – which started out as the ultimate way to share home movies and has evolved into a major online video content platform that has impacted pop culture in probably the most significant way of anything else in the past 10 years. Last, but not least, in user-generated content: blogging and microblogging has usurped control of the news as we used to know it and broke down the barriers of entry for many people into mass media, such as Perez Hilton.

What’s even crazier than some of the stuff on Perez Hilton’s blog is that I’ve only scratched the surface of the past decade. I haven’t said a peep about the iPod, the widespread adoption of ultracompact digital cameras and camcorders, Windows XP, the rise of torrents, or a number of other equally exciting developments. The next time someone asks you what your take was on the past decade, I hope you’ll hold your head high and tell them that even though you’re disappointed that the robot apocalypse isn’t upon us, you’re pretty stoked that you can see cats swinging from ceiling fans off your mobile phone. Thank you.


Jose A. said...

I probably should join Toastmasters. I'm such an introvert that speaking to any group above 5-10 people causes my brain to shut off.

Elton said...

Definitely, there are chapters all over and dues are very cheap. Even the higher seniority people at these chapters are usually very patient and encouraging.