How technology has changed our lives
When Essential Magazine was launched we stood at the threshold of a new millennium, and how things have changed since then! The ever-increasing pace of technological development is making us more and more accepting of its growing role in our lives – to the point where we seldom take stock of just how much it has changed our everyday existence. The question is, could we still do without all the gadgetry that surrounds us?
The older generations used to tell us about growing up in a world without televisions, fridges and washing machines; a world in which telephones and cars were rare, and a holiday meant a trip to your own seashore, not a sandy beach in a foreign land. My generation grew up with all of the above, and more, but it may well be telling those to follow about a time before the Internet, smart phones, holographic screens, instant digital payment and super-fast hyperloop transport.
The young ones will be staring at us wide-eyed, marvelling at the possibility of a life without all this technology, but most of us still remember it well. In fact, it wasn’t all that long ago that cordless telephones, video recorders and a Walkman amazed us; and we should remind ourselves that the brave new world of the Internet, which marks an almost antediluvian watershed in time, is in reality no more than 25 years old.
The new digital era is therefore still in its infancy, so we can expect so much more technological innovation and change to come, and likely at an ever-fastening pace. Artificial Intelligence, when it really comes to a place near you, will have the capacity to change life like nothing other than fire-making and the invention of the wheel have ever done. This makes it a good time to look back at how we did things in 1999.
Back to the future
Look at movies from before the new millennium and you notice how much they seem to have suddenly dated. This is not because of the plot lines or the fact that we are looking at some ancient civilisation, but because the scenarios in which they are played out are increasingly unfamiliar to us – and very much so for the generations who have grown up with a tablet and a mobile phone attached to their hands.
But it’s how we used to live; waking up on a 1999 morning to the chime of an analogue alarm clock, we stumbled out of bed to switch on the light and roll up the blinds manually – no home automated, voice-controlled domotics here. The home décor and kitchen we traversed on the way out to work bore very little resemblance to those of today and cars weren’t the smooth, reliable electronic vehicle they are now. The television, meanwhile, was a bulky box, definitely not a razor-thin Smart TV, the hi-fi a series of stacked boxes flanked by oversized speakers, and mobile phones were in their infancy. Really all you could do with them was phone and text.
After fighting your way through traffic – some things never change – your office looked a tad different to the one you work in now. The desks were large and made of dark wood, and the pretty little iMac computers with their fun blue, green, orange and pink tones were the latest thing. A jet printer was a space age convenience, but most of the time you were bound to your desk as laptops, iPads and SmartPhones hadn’t really broken through into the mainstream yet. The mobility and freedom we now take for granted, to work from a coffee shop, for instance, was still very much in its infancy.
A different way of working
The Internet, likewise, was still relatively new, and people were still coming to grips with it. Digital marketing was basic and in its infancy, a website took months to build, and yet, the greater speed facilitated by the technology that surrounds us today should have made our lives easier, and freed us up to be more creative. Instead, it puts greater demands upon us to do more and above all do it faster, so we can also look back at 1999 with a certain amount of nostalgia, for as we move on in time there are always things that are lost and those that are gained.
Before the Great Machine Age
Over the past 20 years technology has progressed in leaps and bounds. Googling a company or topic, or verifying facts through online sources such as Wikipedia is now second nature. Instead of ‘magical’ hand phones, large bulky televisions and hi-fi systems we now use powerful mobile computers such as laptops, iPads and smart phones. Our televisions, cars and indeed homes are ‘smart’, and we live in a world of digital, online interaction where the prime form of networking is done through social media – something that didn’t really exist back in 1999.
Apart from the obvious comparisons between today’s gadgetry and the more basic ones of the not so distant past there is another great impact that the modern digital world has had in the way we work and live, and this is the way we communicate with each other and have access to instant information in a way that was never possible or even dreamed of 20 years ago – so as you sit on a sunny terrace working away on your latest gadget, cast your mind back to a time when we stood on the threshold of a whole new world.
First published in Essential Magazine