Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What changed?

Things changed during the ‘oughties.  Some for the better, some for the worse.

Tourist flights into space, for example, are now just years away.

On the other hand, the rocket fuel pewtechpollAlan Greenspan injected into the American housing market (which many of you, including employees of Lehman Brothers and Citibank reading this, thought at the time was a good thing) was followed inexorably by the sound just a few years later by that market and all those around it going POP!  For better or worse, we’re all still paying off that particular folly.

There were others.  According to a Pew poll on social and technological change in the last decade, Americans surveyed were most excited about cell phones, somewhat excited about blackberries and iPhones, and not very excited at all about tattoos and reality TV. (A response, sadly, belied by their unflagging popularity.)

And not very excited either by blogs and cable news shows. Bad news for you and me and Pajama TV, you might think. But somewhat excited, quite worryingly, by increased surveillance and security: the surveillance state is more popular than the iPhone!.

So do people now prefer being harassed at airports to downloading cool apps?

Things have changed.

When the sad news of our friend Anna Woolf’s passing was being sent out earlier this month, Cactus Kate reported how she heard the news: “WhaleOil sent me an email to my Blackberry with the subject header ‘Dead’ and a link to Not PC's blog.”

Just contemplate how little of that sentence you or I would have understood ten years ago?

Things have changed.  Jocelyn Noveck has 50 of those biggest ‘small’ changes that you now (possibly) take either for granted or you wish would disappear, but barely knew existed (if at all) just ten years ago. They include:

  • APPs: There's an app for that! The phrase comes from Apple iPhone advertising, but could apply to the entire decade's gadget explosion, from laptops to GPS systems (want your car to give you directions to Mom's house in Chinese, or by a Frenchwoman named Virginie? There was an app for that.)
  • BLOG: I blog, you blog, he blogs ... How did we spend our time before blogging? There are more than 100 million of these Web logs out there in cyberspace.
  • BLACKBERRIES: Considered essential by corporate CEOs and moms planning playdates. Introduced in 2002, the smartphone version is now used by more than 28 million people, according to its maker, Research In Motion Ltd.
  • DIGITAL CAMERAS:  Remember those trips to get film developed? Nope? Even your grandmother has a digital camera, and she's probably e-mailing you photos right now or uploading them to a photo-sharing site.
  • CONNECTIVITY: As in, we're all expected to be connected, wirelessly, all the time. Boss e-mails you on a Sunday? Better answer, unless you're off in Antarctica — you have no excuse.
  • COUGARS: A new TV series called "Cougar Town" focuses on a phenomenon that gained its name this decade: women dating younger men.
  • CROCS: Those ubiquitous plastic clogs debuted in 2002 and became the shoes you loved to hate. Kids love 'em, but there are Web groups dedicated to their destruction. Not to be deterred: First lady Michelle Obama, who wore them on vacation in 2009.
  • DVRs: Suddenly, DVR-ing is a verb, and what it means is this: There's no reason to know anymore what channel your program is on, and what time.
  • EMBARRASSMENT ENTERTAINMENT: Embarrassment has always been part of comedy — you need only think of Don Rickles — but this is the decade of cringe-worthy Larry David in "Curb Your Enthusiasm," Ricky Gervais, and of course Sacha Baron Cohen, who as Borat and Bruno shamed perhaps the entire country.
  • FACEBOOK: Can you believe this social networking site was once limited only to Harvard students? Now it's a time-sucking obsession for more than 300 million users globally and a whole new form of social etiquette: Who to friend on Facebook?
  • GOOGLE: This was the decade that Google became a part of our brain function. You know that guy who was in that movie — when was it? Just Google it.
  • GPS: We can't get lost anymore — or at least it's pretty hard, with the ubiquitous GPS systems. But you'd better type in your location carefully: One couple made a 400-mile mistake this year by typing "Carpi" rather than "Capri."
  • IPODS: An icon of the digital age, it's hard to believe this portable media player was first launched in 2001. Six years later the 100 millionth iPod was sold.
  • LIFE COACHES: In the aughts, there's a coach for everything! So why not life itself? Some say life coaches are merely therapists without the license or regulations.
  • SEXTING: Combine texting with a cell phone's camera function and you get this parental nightmare. A survey from Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project found that 15 percent of teens ages 12-17 with a cell phone had received sexually suggestive images or videos.
  • TWITTER: The new social network introduced tweets, retweets, follows and trending topics — as long as it fit in 140 characters.
  • WII: In a sea of ever-more-sophisticated video games, this simple console became the decade's breakout hit by appealing to the non-gaming masses. Wiis became a center of family gaming, home fitness and even senior socializing.
  • WIKIPEDIA: A boon to lazy students everywhere, the open-source encyclopedia used the masses to police its entries and keep them (mostly) (sometimes) accurate.
  • YOUTUBE: Let's end this list and go kill some time by watching ... YouTube videos! The video-sharing site was born in 2005. Political candidates in 2008 even had their on YouTube channels. The most popular video yet: "Charlie Bit My Finger," in which baby Charlie bites the finger of his brother Harry.

Which of them, do you think, will be the Amstrad or Amiga Computer of the 2020s?

And on the downside, we also now know more than we ever would have wanted to about Saul Alinsky, the Weathermen, mortgage-backed securities, Fannie Mae, Freddi Mac, militant Islam, Nancy Pelosi and Tiger Woods secret method of improving his golf swing. 

But there are also more people now who don’t get confused when you talk about ‘Austrian Economics’ and more people reading Atlas Shrugged than at any time since it was written . . .

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