Then and Now: How Far We Are From Y2K, and the Tech That Got Us Here
Not to sound overly obvious, but the last decade has changed everything -- the way we think and interact with one another, the way we work and play -- more so than any 10-year span of the last century. So we investigate the fact that, in many ways and without us even noticing, technology has become front and center in our lives, and how vastly different the end of the first decade of the new millennium was from the beginning. With the first generation of children who have never used a VHS or won't remember Apple as a Macintosh finally hitting computing age, we take stock in how the world has evolved. So think about yourself then and now, and remember, like Prince says, make sure to party like it's 199--, er, 2009.
Our view on 2000's laptops are akin to that era's view on brick-like cell phones: what ancient, strange devices they were. The ThinkPad was a popular, clunky model, and only serious business travelers would shell out the thousands of dollars to use such a bulky object. Serious work was done on an "old school," curved CRT monitor. The end of the 20th century was a dark time for Apple, which only had education, publishing, and a motley crew of überfans as major consumers. Though Steve Jobs returned in 1996, he spent years pulling it back from the brink of obsolescence. The first iMac didn't land until 1998, and went through several changes before being accepted by a larger audience. The market, for the most part, was completely Windows-saturated.
Now: VAIOs and Inspirons, Wi-Fi, BlackBerrys, the all-in-one iPhone
You'll find the Switched office working diligently... on laptops (the exception being our Editor-In-Chief, who does some heavy Pro-level lifting). Our computers snap shut and start up quickly, and a lack of free Wi-Fi usually gets us whining. The business landscape has changed, thanks to modern mobility. This means cheaper labor -- interns can bring their own computers or more workers stay at home. Also, we are constantly on the go, using smart phones to check e-mail or transfer money into bank accounts. The phone has finally become what it always should have been -- a way to get on to the Internet.
While PCs are still the large portion of the market, the average individual doesn't recoil in horror when someone pulls out a MacBook. Most can manage their way around either graphical interface, but take a vehement liking to one over the other.
The idea of downloading music, to a year 2000 dweller, was not absurd. Napster was at the fingertips of those in the know, and if you could tolerate the 96 kbps sound quality, there were virtual libraries to be pillaged. But that was still the era of collecting: old VHS tapes were slowly being replaced by expensive DVDs (but we still needed tapes for recording 'Party of Five' if we couldn't be home), books and books (remember those?) of CDs organized (if you are like us, with corresponding inner sleeves), and so many discarded AA batteries.
Now: Digital Collections, Downloading to Get it Now, Hulu
The idea of someone staying home to watch 'True Blood' is baffling. In fact, a show can be a hit even if no one tunes in, thanks to TiVo -- and now Hulu, iTunes, and (not that we condone it) illegal downloading. In fact, most people born after 1980 have probably, at some point, engaged or illegal downloading (or have had friends who experimented). Our bitrate-obsessed culture has made us increasingly aware of quality and speed. Collections have become entirely digital, and thanks to next-gen consoles like Xbox and PS3, even our video games can be downloaded.
iPod, YouPod, WeAllPod
No matter how good the reviews are or how cheap the gadget is, nothing has encroached on the iPod's market share. MP3s have become synonymous with the player, which essentially allowed MP3-purchasing sites like iTunes and Amazon to be successful. The MP3 made the iPod possible, but the iPod made the MP3 successful. Of course, the way we listen changed as well, with individuals considering music in terms of singly purchased songs, instead of entire, CD-contained albums.
Broader than Broadband
The need for speed (constantly being fed by Internet accessible devices) was a distant future for late-20th-century residents, who knew something must be faster, but had to deal with the daunting dial-tone of molasses-slow modems. However, with faster speeds came more information -- making the computer central to the way we entertain ourselves.
Then: Calling Airlines, Check-In Lines, Relaxed Departure and Easy Carry-Ons
Any American decade retrospective has to take the most ground-breaking event of the last 10 years into perspective: On September 11, 2001, this country's way of travel was irrevocably changed. No more walking Grandma to her gate. Also available in 2000 were travel agents, liquids on-board carry-ons, and it was possible to fly in a smoking section internationally. There also weren't looming threat "orange level alerts" during travels.
Now: Relaxed Planning, Nothing Over 6 Oz. of Liquid
Travel agencies are all but extinct thanks to sites like Kayak, Hotwire, and Priceline. The irony of flying in a post 9/11 world is that, while traveling itself has become more regulated and thorough in safety procedures, it's easier than ever to buy a ticket: it's possible to even do it on a phone, and if you plan correctly, you can make it through an airport without speaking to anyone besides the security agent. Which doesn't make it easier to fly, of course.
Though cell phones weren't as rampant as they are now (many invested after 9/11), the popular phone of the early millennium was the Nokia 3310. With interchangeable faceplates (the author had a glittery purple one), they were simple and straightforward with a pea-green screen and that catchy ringtone. Text messaging was a fairly easy thing to understand (remember, there were two-way pagers), but not as useful as today. Oh, and lastly -- cell phones weren't reliable. People turned them off when not in use, and most were employed for outgoing, not incoming, calls. Lastly, this year marked the death of Geocities, and with it, the sparkling on-page graphics associated with Web sites of yore.
Now: Facebook, Do Everything Phones and a Whole New Social Networking World
Nothing has changed as much as the way we communicate. 'The Twitter' has taken the Web by storm, you don't exist unless you have a Facebook profile (and the last 10 years saw the rise and fall of Friendster and MySpace first). Texting is an obvious addition, but imagine explaining to your ten-years-younger self that you 'poked' someone online or that your mom has learned Internet chat.
What this means is that everything is recorded. With digital cameras, we upload memories as we make them, share experiences with friends across the globe, and always remember birthdays (often sending messages of commemoration). A best friend can be in Singapore. Your mother knows what you and your new boyfriend did on a date last night. And finally, you can prove that your high school crush fortunately peaked in high school.
Once upon a time, we were a unique, articulate, rational people. We knew how to find things with maps, and we would be wowed by someone's 300+ CD collection. If we didn't know something small -- like what would happen if we hired two private investigators to follow each other -- we either did some clever querying on our CD-ROM encyclopedia, or we just didn't know it. Our senses of humor didn't include the word FAIL and witnessing a keyboard-playing cat required one heck of a talented cat. Basically, our quest for knowledge wasn't immediately gratified.. and we were OK with that.
A new word has entered the lexicon: Google (noun and verb). MVP of the Boston Red Sox in 1976? Google it. Want to find others interested in classic Malaysian dance in Philadelphia? Find them on Yelp. Wanna see Snooki get slugged? YouTube it. The world is at your fingertips, which can feel incredibly daunting. No matter what, someone's blog will always be better or more popular, someone else will get the scoop on the new 'Spiderman' movie before you, someone else has written the wiki before you even knew what a Wikipedia was.
YouTube Stars and Blogging Celebrities
Since every painful thing you ever wanted to know -- about the world, about your exes' new flame, about Mighty Mouse -- is on the Net, we've begun to think in status updates: 'Ugh, this plane is late. #FML' or 'We're official. It says so on Facebook.' Any person with a computer can write a blog, any Joe with a cell cam can take a life-changing picture, any funny talent can bring YouTube fame. With the Net, we are always performing for our legions of friends and followers (or our moms. Whatever).
Here's some food for thought: In 2000, if you asked us what a footprint was, we'd remark it's something we left in the sand. Today, we might respond it's how we are traced, and how far our impact is felt, digitally and throughout the world. And that's a lot to think about.