My friend Grant posed the following interesting question to me:
Say you could go back in time to 1999… and you were to show/tell something that shows how much “progress” humans have made in the past 10 years — something that would amaze somebody — what would it be?
A great question, I think. Here are some answers we came up with, with a bit of justification for each:
- Wikipedia: launched in 2001, it now has 3.1 million articles in English and 14 million overall. The #1 information source on the web and a massive testament to user-generated content. (Remember Encarta?)
- Nexus One (or any suitably advanced smartphone): The first gigahertz chip didn’t even come out until 2000, and now you can get one in the palm of your hand — with near-universal connectivity and a beautiful touch-screen that nearly matches the 800×600 resolution of most common full-size monitors in 1999. It also comes with a built-in 5 megapixel camera to boot, and those babies weren’t even available to consumers until 2001.
- Avatar: CGI on an obscene, marvelous scale. Art+technology.
- Obama: a black president so soon? Amazing.
- 32GB microSD card: In 1999, the largest hard drive you could get was 37.5GB. Now you can get 32GB in a format the size and weight of your fingernail — about .0005th of the volume and weight of that big old hard drive.
- YouTube: Only started in 2005, but already has over 100 million videos of all varieties and origins. People watch over 10 billion videos a month — near 10 hours of video per user. All video will be streamed eventually, but it’s staggering how quickly the transition is happening.
- Usain Bolt’s 9.58 in the 100m: Maurice Greene makes things complicated here. He ran a 9.79 in 1999, but he’s since admitted to buying (but not using… hrm) PEDs. If we take him out of the equation, the 100m world record improved by 0.08s from 1989 to 1999, from 9.92 to 9.84. From 1999 till now, Bolt has taken off a remarkable 0.26s. For a similar improvement from 1989, we’d have to go back to the mid 50s and the era of hand-timing. Even with Greene in the picture it’s an amazing feat.
- TiVo: pause, rewind, record TV. Seems like magic. (Actually came out in mid-1999, but I couldn’t resist. PVRs are so pervasive now.)
Runners up: Newspapers going out of business (drag timeline to the left), iPod (2001) + iTunes (7B songs sold), eInk/Kindle, Google Street View
Clearly, since we’re both computer nerds, this is a limited, biased selection. Which of these is best? What else is out there? Medicine, the arts, the sciences, sports, politics…
Also: predictions for 2020?