Our Increasingly Compressed Tech Timeline

It’s fun to look back 30 years and riff on how primitive we were then (no voicemail, no mobile phones, no laptops, no Internet), but we really don’t need to go back that far. The pace of technology has become so compressed, we only need to rewind five, 10, 15 years to see how day-to-day life has changed so much, so suddenly…

Seven years ago, there was no such thing as an iPhone. The world has gone from zero to nearly 1.5 billion smartphones overall in those seven years.

15 years ago, most people thought it was ludicrous to buy anything from the Internet.

14 years ago, according to Pew Research Center, only 3% of American households had broadband Internet access. Now it’s 70%.

10 years ago, the first HD camcorders cost many thousands of dollars. Now, nearly everyone walks around with a 1080p camcorder in their pocket, thrown in with their smartphone. Some of the newer phone cameras even record in 4K.

Four years ago, there was no such thing as an iPad. Now there are more than 170 million of them, and countless other tablets sporting Android or Windows.

15 years ago, there was no such thing as home Wi-Fi. Now, anyone can set up a Wi-Fi network in minutes for less than $20.

Five years ago, for most people, accessing the Internet on a mobile phone was next-to-impossible, slower than dialup.

14 years ago, GPS in cars was a comically ineffective bauble for the well-heeled. Now, for free, anyone can bark “Navigate to…” into a smartphone, and get ultra-sophisticated turn-by-turn directions in a sexy voice on a high-definition screen.

15 years ago, there was no such thing as a DVR. Now, most of us can’t imagine life without one.

Eight years ago, when the average customer wanted the same music in another room, they had to install an entire system in that other room and physically carry the music to that other system. Now, you can wirelessly engage that second room with a system like Sonos, complete with tablet/smartphone touchscreen control app, for as low as $249.

15 years ago, to search a topic, most folks drove to the public library. Now, on your Android smartphone with the new 4.4 OS, you don’t even have to push a button. You bark, for example, “OK Google, where was Tom Cruise born?” and a pleasant voice answers you, “Tom Cruise was born in Syracuse, New York.”

Five years ago, if you wanted your own music in the car, you had to carry a CD to the car and jam it into the slot. Now, the car knows when you’re in it, and wirelessly transfers your currently playing music, phone conversations, and navigation prompts to the in-car entertainment system.

My current smartphone sports more computing power, more RAM, and more file storage than the laptop I started Sell-Through Solutions with, 11 years ago.

From indoor plumbing to iPhone in seconds flat

This recent technological flurry is even more impressive when you consider that, 100 years ago, most folks were getting around the same way they did 4000 years ago – by horse. With no electronic entertainment whatsoever – not even radio – people entertained themselves the same way they did in caveman times: by telling stories. Tap water in homes was a luxury. People heated their bathwater with fire. A good number of our seniors remember those times.

We had thousands of years to adapt to fire, and the horse, and fetching water. Today, some feel that our recently compressed tech timeline has upended our evolution – the technology is advancing faster than we can adapt. Indeed, we are biologically identical to humans from thousands of years ago. But now, our heads buried in all manner of electronic devices, we can’t write, we can’t speak properly, we can’t sleep, we can’t stop working. We vacillate from almost no human contact to over-communicating and oversharing, hopscotching from Facebook to Twitter to LinkedIn to Pinterest to Vine to MySpace to YouTube to Instagram to Google+ to Reddit to Foursquare, and getting far less done in the process than the people who built the Empire State building in only 15 months with no computers. We may actually be devolving.

I think, however, that our devolution is temporary. Every older generation is taken aback by the current younger generation’s infatuation with technology: radio in the 1940s, cars in the 1950s, television in the 1960s. For us, someday soon, smartphones and tablets will no longer be crack cocaine, settling into a role as mundane as the toothbrush. Our communication choices will streamline and become an unremarkable part of us, instead of consuming us. Much of the competing tech noise will fade away by attrition. More of us will demand that our tech be less of a time sink. Technology will get back to its original purpose: enhancing the quality of life.

So we’ll have that going for us. Which is nice. ♦