Improvements in Tech since the 90sIt can be hard to see the gradual improvement of most goods over time, but I think one way to get a handle on them is to look at their downstream effects: all the small ordinary everyday things which nevertheless depend on obscure innovations and improving cost-performance ratios and gradually dropping costs and new material and… etc. All of these gradually drop the cost, drop the price, improve the quality at the same price, remove irritations or limits not explicitly noticed, or so on.
It all adds up.
So here is a personal list of small ways in which my ordinary everyday daily life has been getting better since the ’90s (as far back as I can clearly remember these things—I am sure the list of someone growing up in the 1940s would include many hassles I’ve never known at all).
Progress is usually debated in terms of the big things like eliminating child mortality, or science & tech: discovering gravitational waves, creating world champion AIs, turning AIDS into a treatable rather than terminal disease, conquering hepatitis C or, curing deadly cancers with genetically-engineered T-cells. But as cool as those big things are, and matters of life-and-death for many, such achievements tend to be remote from ordinary people, and not your everyday sort of thing (or so one hopes). Small stuff matters too. What about the little things in an ordinary life?
The seen and the unseen. When I think back, so many hassles have simply disappeared from my life, and nice new things appeared. I remember my desk used to be crowded with things like dictionaries and pencil sharpeners, but between smartphones & computers, most of my desk space is now dedicated to my cats.
These things rarely come up because so many of them are about removing irritations or creating new possibilities—dogs that do not bark, and ‘the seen and the unseen’—and how quickly we forget that the status quo was not always so.
Limiting myself to my earliest relatively clear memories of everyday life in the mid-1990s, I still wound up making a decent-sized list of improvements to my ordinary life.
Since we are primarily a technology company, I have decided to list how computers have changed over time to improve our quality of life.
With computers, it’s hardly worth trying to enumerate the improvements on every dimension, and it might be easier to list the exceptions instead—if I made a list of a hundred things, someone would chime in with another one I’d forgotten, like easy rental rooms through homestay apps or food delivery apps. But nevertheless, here’s a few:
Cheap: electronics prices keep falling. These days, people whine endlessly online if a RAM or semiconductor shortage (something that happens every decade or so, as the industry has notorious boom-and-bust dynamics) means that they have to pay as much as they did a few years ago for something, but the long-term trends are dramatic.You can buy things like top-end VR headsets or smartphone, which will cost less in real terms than a Nintendo NES did in 1983 or a Sony Walkman cassette player in 1979. Kids in 2020 can’t even imagine having to pay over a hundred bucks for a new copy of Super Mario Bros. 3 —a far cry from paying $5 these days for a great PC game during a Steam sale, or nothing at all for many of the most popular games like Fortnite. the Internet/Human Genetics/AI/VR are now actually things
Imagine dealing with the 2019–20 tech requirements in 1989 instead.
- VHS tapes:
- Not Rewinding VHS tapes before returning to the library or Blockbuster
- not worrying about Blockbuster or library late Fines
- Not Watching crummy VHS tapes, period
- Not making a dozen phone calls playing Phone Tag, to set up something as simple as a play date
- hotels and restaurants provide Public Internet Access by default, without nickel-and-diming customers or travelers; this access is usually via WiFi
- Satellite Internet & TV are affordable & common for rural people
- All-You-Can-Eat Broadband:
- Indefinite: not worrying about running out of dial-up hours, liberated from the tyranny of time metering and (mostly) bandwidth metering
- All Day: because you won’t be yelled at for tying up the (only) phone line
- Ethernet: not needing to know the difference between PLIP, SLIP, IRQ, TCP/IP, or PPP to get online
- 20xx is The Year Of the Linux Desktop: no, but seriously, Linux X, WiFi, & laptops now usually work
- Hygienic Mice: no longer needing to clean computer mice weekly thanks to laser mice
- Hearing Aids are a small fraction the size, have gone digital with multiple directional microphones (higher-quality, customizable, noise-reduction), halved or more in price, become water-resistant, and even do tricks like Bluetooth
- GPS: not getting lost while frantically driving down a freeway; or anywhere else, for that matter
- Universal Cables: USB cables mean that for connecting or recharging, we now only need to figure out ~10 different plugs instead of 1000+ (one for every pairwise device combo)
- Universal Search: search engines typically turn up the desired result in the first page, even if it’s a book or scientific paper; one doesn’t need to resort to ‘meta-search engines’ to cover a dozen search engines which each index a different tiny fraction of the Internet, or gradually building up enormous 20-clause Boolean queries to filter out noise
- Universal Storage: we no longer need to strategize which emails or photos or documents to delete to save space
- RAM: programmers able to assume users have 4GB RAM rather than 4MB RAM
- Smartphones: far too much to list… (eg GPS, and careless smartphone photographs are higher-quality than most film cameras from a few decades ago, particularly in niches like dark scenes where smartphone night modes can achieve things few or no non-digital film cameras were capable of)
Post was last modified: October 15 2021 17:35:58