If you really want to see just how much the times have changed over the last decade, take a good hard look at the evolution of technology, both in terms of its capabilities as well as its place in our daily lives. A lot of the gadgets and services that most of us take for granted today couldn’t even have been imagined 10 years ago.
Technology was developing at a ridiculously rapid pace between the late 1990s and early 2000s. The difference may not be immediately obvious for those who were in the thick of it, but hindsight, as they say, is 20/20, so prepare to be haunted by the ghost of technology’s past.
Dot Com Ka-Boom
In 1995, the Internet had a handful of users, but was still more comparable to HAM radio than any other media outlet. Hardly anyone had an email address, and the number of websites was just a tiny fraction of what we have today—which is not surprising, given that our connections then were crawling through phone lines.
Fast forward to two years later, and everyone was clamoring for an email address, trying to figure out how to create websites and to register their spot online. Communicating internationally via electronic means was soaring in popularity, resulting in large numbers of users flocking to chat services like IRC and early incarnations of instant messengers like ICQ. Sites like Amazon and eBay began making a killing as people turned to online shopping. And, of course, there was all that porn to discover.
Dialups were still the main form of connection to the Net, but this would change within the next few years with the advent of Cable and DSL connections, which most users still utilize today, but wirelessly.
Like any media revolution, however, there’s bound to be a glut. With everyone trying to get rich quick online, the market became saturated which resulted in the notorious dot com crash of the late 90s. People eventually (almost) recovered but realized that making the Internet work for them was going to involve more than just a snazzy name.
By last year, most people couldn’t even fathom what life was like before the Internet. Today there is virtually nothing that can’t be done online. Practically everyone has at least one email address. Technorati.com currently tracks 29.8 million web logs (or blogs) worldwide. Communication has advanced to the point where instant messaging is making way for Voice over Internet Protocol. Shopping online is the norm. And now, with the faster speeds, people can download music, watch television and play video games online.
Walk The Talk
The term “pagers” seems so ancient now, doesn’t it? But before everyone and their grandmas were sporting mobile phones, beepers were the gadget du jour. That isn’t to say that mobiles weren’t around already. More for the older towkays than anyone else, mobiles back then were so chunky you could kill a person by hitting them over the head with one, and sported nothing more than a tiny analog screen.
But when Nokia and Motorola started incorporating elements of style and user-friendliness to these phones, such that even the most technologically incompetent could operate one, pagers started showing the first signs of demise.
By the end of the 1990s, it wasn’t uncommon to find businessmen and teenagers using the same mobile phone model. Pagers still had their place with a select few, but were already beginning to phase out. They did their best to stay relevant with the introduction of alphanumeric message functions, but how could that compete with the ease of the mobile’s short message service (SMS)?
This, of course, brings us to where we are now: phones that have advanced to the point where they seamlessly integrate mobile communication with other media like wireless Internet capabilities, video and photo functions and even MP3 players.
It’s the Music That We Choose
Back in 1995, Sony was king of the hill. With cassettes facing their final death throes and portable CD players becoming the way to listen to music on the go, Sony’s Discman—like its predecessor the Walkman—was the brand name that most consumers associated the format with. Even the company’s big push for the MiniDisc format towards the end of the decade couldn’t stop the Discman and its competitors.
Then came the iPod. Apple broke the mould when this little wonder (well, it didn’t start off so little) of portable music arrived in the early 2000s. Using the format that was most popular at the time, the MP3, Apple dominated the market—and arguably still does—beating other companies vying for a piece of the MP3 pie, including Singapore’s very own Creative Technologies. Only recently has Sony come back to the fight with its new Walkman.
So influential was the advent of the MP3 player (combined with the need to combat illegal P2P file-sharing services) that Apple and other companies like the reformed Napster began successfully selling music online.
CD players, like the portable cassette players before them, struggle to keep up. They are surviving because many people still buy CDs. MP3s may be the most popular way to listen to music, but it seems that, for now at least, music fans still love the actual act of CD shopping and holding the cover in their hands.
The Games People Play
In the early-1990s, three words most commonly graced the lips of the gaming world: Sega, Nintendo and Doom. PC games such as this popular first-person shooter ruled the market for the earlier half of the decade, and arguably shook up Sega and Nintendo’s comfortable gaming console niche, which still dished out simplistic, 16-bit side scrollers at the time.
Finally, with the arrival of Sony’s Playstation in the mid-1990s, gamers could kiss cartridges goodbye forever. Graphics to absolutely die for, extremely addictive games like the Tomb Raider and Resident Evil series, and non-linear gameplay made Playstation the most popular console of the 1990s.
PC games, of course, didn’t slacken behind, constantly keeping up with computer system upgrades to create the best games possible. These days, PC games rank as some of the most popular, with cult favorites like the Battlefield series of first person shooters and the role-playing game (RPG) phenomenon World of Warcraft.
On the console front, Playstation has already gone through several variations. Likewise, its biggest competitor, Microsoft’s Xbox, has just released its most recent breakthrough, the Xbox 360. Sega and Nintendo tried their best to keep up, but these days, gamers don’t talk about them as much as they used to.