4 Everyday Technologies That Didn’t Exist 20 Years Ago

4 Everyday Technologies That Didn’t Exist 20 Years Ago

There’s no doubt that the march of technological progress is moving more quickly now than ever before. Take personal computers as an example. The first PCs hit the market in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that computers truly became ubiquitous in most homes in the developed world. In comparison, consumers have adopted touch-screen smartphones much more quickly. Apple released the iPhone in 2008. By 2012, consumers were buying more than 100 million iPhones per year. Before 2008, the modern touch-screen smartphone didn’t exist. Four years later, it was virtually the only type of phone that anyone bought.

The smartphone is the most obvious everyday gadget that didn’t exist 20 years ago, but it’s just one of many technologies that you probably feel you could never do without even though they’ve only been around for a short time. Here are a few other examples.

Wearable Health Tracking

Wearable health tracking is another technology that Apple has had a major hand in advancing, although Apple didn’t invent the technology. Before the Apple Watch and its competitors hit the market, people were already using devices like the Fitbit wristband to track their heart rate during workouts. Today, though, companies have taken wearable health tracking technology to an entirely new level.

These are just a few of the things that today’s wearable devices can do.

  • Heart rate tracking, including automatic detection of abnormally high or low heart rates and irregular rhythms
  • ECG recording to aid in the diagnosis of heart-related issues
  • Activity tracking to gauge overall heart health
  • Hard fall detection and the ability to contact emergency services if you need help
  • Medical history and allergy tracking for easy sharing with hospital personnel
  • Real-time blood-oxygen measurement to alert you if you might be sick

In the near future, it’s expected that the Apple Watch will gain the ability to track your blood sugar levels in real time. That could turn out to be a life-changing feature for diabetics and those hoping to prevent the development of diabetes.

Vaping

Nicotine replacement products such as gums and patches have surely been important for public health, and millions of people have quit smoking with the assistance of those products. The problem, though, is that traditional nicotine replacement doesn’t work for most smokers who want to quit. The nicotine absorbs slowly, and without the aspects of smoking that people enjoy – the hand-to-mouth ritual, the throat hit and the flavor – the temptation to revert back to smoking is simply too strong for most people.

There have been many attempts throughout history to invent a “safer cigarette” that rectified the shortcomings of traditional nicotine replacement and made it easier for smokers to quit. The modern e-cigarette finally appeared during the 2000s, as improved battery technology and miniaturization of microprocessors finally made it possible to create devices that could vaporize nicotine-infused liquid for inhaling while being small enough for consumers to accept.

It’s estimated that tens of millions of people have successfully used vaping to help themselves quit smoking, and that’s because having the ability to inhale one’s nicotine makes vaping satisfying in ways that traditional nicotine replacement products aren’t. Vaping isn’t just a technology that didn’t exist 20 years ago; it’s also given rise to an entire industry supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs that didn’t previously exist. Around the world, vape shops like Premium Vape Australia have popped up to help keep consumers supplied with vaping hardware and e-liquid.

Social Media

Can you imagine what life would be like if you didn’t have the ability to check an app on your phone and see all of your friends’ activities, accomplishments, pictures and random thoughts in real time? Although social media certainly has its critics, there’s no doubt that it’s here to stay. The Internet is all about communication, and social media has made real-time communication with anyone in the world as easy as typing. In the past, you might have used technology like email and instant messaging to communicate with friends online. Today, though, there’s no point. Between mobile text messaging and social media, you can put a message, a picture or a video in someone’s hand instantly.

Social media puts family members and old friends at your fingertips – even if you don’t live anywhere near them. There’s a good chance that social media has also enabled you to meet people you probably wouldn’t have met otherwise. It’s rare to find a human being anywhere in the developed world who doesn’t have at least one social media account, and that’s about as ubiquitous as a technology gets.

On-Demand Media Streaming

Digital media isn’t new. The first audio CDs hit the market during the 1980s, and it wasn’t long before companies figured out how to get video content to play from CD media as well. DVDs arrived shortly after. By the end of the 1990s, people had figured out how to “rip” content from CDs and DVDs and distribute it online. Only recently, though, have we gained the ability to type the name of just about any song, film or television program and stream it to any Internet-connected device in real time. Before that could happen, broadband connections had to become faster and more reliable. Data center storage also had to become less expensive.

Most importantly, though, rights holders had to make the decision that earning a little revenue from granting streaming rights was better than earning almost no revenue due to rampant piracy. The days of forcing consumers to pay $15 for a CD were clearly over, and they weren’t ever coming back. There was no choice but to adapt to the changing times.

Today, you can pay one price to subscribe to a service like Apple Music, Amazon Prime or Netflix – and with that one service, you can instantly access most of the history of recorded music along with more films and TV shows than you could ever find the time to watch. Streaming services have transformed media consumption forever by making it faster, easier and more affordable to get the content that you want.

John Norwood
John Norwood is best known as a technology journalist, currently at Ziddu where he focuses on tech startups, companies, and products.