“The best way to predict the future is to create it”  Peter Drucker

Almost as famous as Steve Jobs’ “one more thing” was the proclamation that latest Apple technology “was the most advanced we’ve ever created.”  Somehow, they always seemed to pull it off, despite it stating the glaringly obvious.  You would assume the largest tech company in the world wouldn’t make tech that was slightly less advanced that the previous iteration, but they simply loved to celebrate making progress.  And they should.  

Innovation has been with humanity since we figured out fire and started scratching drawings on caves and everything since.  In making a list of huge technical advancements throughout humanity, there would be a few obvious milestones such as fire, the wheel, figuring out how to build gigantic pyramids and cathedrals, air travel, refrigeration, computers etc.  There may be a few less obvious choices such as irrigation, better farming techniques, splicing genes, new medical techniques, and so forth. 

Technological gains are at their best when they affect everyday people and everyday lives.  In trying to decide what the greatest technological gains of the 21st Century are, we’re looking at things that have impacted our daily lives in the 21st Century.  

For National Technology Day during CES, we wanted to celebrate the technology that’s there in front of us every day and will become more a part of our lives going forward.  So our list is of major leaps in every day technology that have occurred or become applicable in the 21st Century. 

We’ll leave you to discuss the merits and pitfalls. 

Here’s our list of the top technologies of the 21st Century. 

1.  The iPod

iPod Technology

iPod Classic – 21st Century Technology

Digital MP3 players predate the 21st Century and Apple weren’t the originators, however, when Steve Jobs pulled 1000 songs out of his pocket, something was different.  You could carry around the equivalent of 100 albums with you, wherever you went. 

At the time, the music industry was struggling with Napster and other torrents’ impact on sales. Apple not only created a new device that would re-engage people with their music, but created an ecosystem through iTunes that would help re-energize the music industry and change the way we listened to music. 

Around 1 billion iPods have been sold,  tens of billions of songs have been downloaded, and billions of hours of music has been played through streaming.  Additionally the iPod changed the way we consume media and information with the birth of podcasts and digital download audiobooks.

So here’s to the iPod. 

2. The Smartphone 

Smartphone technology

The smartphone existed prior to the 21st Century (Think Nokia 9000 and other initial compu-phones), but it wasn’t until the 21st Century that they truly came into their own.  That little thing we carry around in our pocket and frequently sit on is a million times more powerful than the computers that put humans on the moon.

While Steve Jobs took the smartphone to another level with unique touch technology, it was actually the BlackBerry that really put smartphones on the map.  Initially a business tool, smartphones have grown to become the rule, rather than the exception.  It’s hard to think of a technology that has actually changed society as much in the last two decades. 

From changing the way we work by taking business communication into our homes to being able to book almost anything from the palm of your hand, smartphones have been transformative.  What people traveled miles to access from the world’s great libraries, we can access anytime, anywhere. 

The smartphone is our all-in-one communication tool; our camera, our video game console, our personal media center, our travel center, our map, our personal assistant, and pretty much anything else we need or use every day. Most people feel naked without their smartphones and we understand why!

3. Virtual Reality

VR Technology

Virtual Reality Technology

Virtual Reality did not originate in the 21st Century.  If you’ve seen ‘The Lawnmower Man’, you’ll notice some very Oculus Rift looking tech two decades before they began teasing us on Kickstarter.  But technology has finally caught up with our ideas and has produced something that is accessible to the masses. 

Better graphics, more sophisticated algorithms, motion that doesn’t make you feel sick, spatial-enabled smartphones, and more powerful processors are all contributing to making VR something relevant to people.  The uses extend beyond the obvious gaming applications to learning, training, and connecting people to places and spaces from around the world. 

The militaries have been using VR to train soldiers with immersive experiences and the technology will evolve to create more physicality in a digital environment and has huge potential for the education industry.  Just read ‘Ready Player One’ if you want a possible window into the future of VR. 

Despite being around for decades, VR is finally getting a real start in the 21st Century. 

4. High Definition and Home Theater

High definition has been discussed since the early part of the 20th Century, when British Television was trying to enhance the technology in the 30s.  However, it’s become a 21st Century race to push resolutions to greater lengths.  Even up until a decade ago 720p was still the predominant resolution, however, today HD is the norm and it won’t be long (especially after the Black Friday and post-Christmas sales) that we will see 4K as standard and 8K and beyond become available. 

While it may seem like the natural evolution of things, it is changing industries.  The TV and movie industry has had to rethink how they film, how they build sets, and the make-up they use.  4K is changing how lighting is applied and CGI is looking a bit more like CGI on films not optimized for 4K.  Sports production is changing and for once you can actually see a golf ball on TV.

Viewing experiences are also changing how we absorb media.  The movie theater industry has been in a gradual decline over the last decade.  As the price of mammoth UHD TVs continues to decline and movie ticket prices go up, more people will opt for home entertainment options.  Combine big high definition TVs with streaming and digital downloads and the 21st Century could be the era where the TV destroys movie theaters. 

5. Digital Media (eBooks, digital downloads, streaming, and more)

When the Kindle first came out there were the early adopters, but the vast majority of people shrugged at the latest fad and said they would never move away from joy of physically holding a paper book.  While sales are still neck-and-neck, eBooks will outsell real books within the next few years, much to the joy of adult romance novel authors who are seeing their book sales increase because of the inconspicuous nature of the eReaders. 

While many still have an attachment to the physical nature of books, CDs, and DVDs, many are adopting their digital counterparts.  We have access to media and content like never before.  Through the combined efforts of Amazon, Apple, Netflix and others, record stores, book shops and video rental shops have disappeared.  Remember Borders, Blockbuster, and Tower Records?  While partially driven by online commerce, digital downloads have sealed the fate of many brick-and-mortar industries. 

We can watch, read, and listen to what we want, when we want.  Subscription and streaming services have given us unparalleled choice and access. It’s also likely to lead to a lot of wasted nights trying to figure out what to watch.  Netflix and chill to Netflix and still…don’t know what I want to watch. 

Make no mistake, digital media has changed us. 

6. Apps

“There’s an app for that.”  For almost everything, there is.  Applications on computers have been around for decades, but with the introduction of the smartphone, apps became a culture and economy of their own.  In fact, the app economy will be worth over $100 billion by 2020.

Taxis arriving at your front door, booking air travel, ordering food, personal assistance, business management, monitoring sleep, tracking fitness and health, controlling your home appliances and…you can see where this is going. 

Apps have changed our lives.  There is no denying their impact on society, both positive and negative.  While their impact may not have been felt so deeply without the advent of smartphones and now wearables, they have become a defining technological milestone.  And they’re just getting started. 

7. Social Media

Facebook now boasts 1.8 billion users.  That’s around one-quarter of the world’s population.  Social media has connected the world, changed the way news is delivered, and provided hours of entertainment watching dancing cats. 

However, social media has also become big business.  Facebook has become one of the most dominant technical and social forces in the world by controlling 3 of the top 10 social media and messaging channels and showing no signs of slowing down.  Twitter exposes major world events in real time and allows us to peer into news stories like never before. 

Social media has also created an entirely new media format and gave birth to a new type of celebrity.  People are becoming superstars from their bedrooms and this has moved us into an era of endless content creation. 

Despite some of the challenges and consequences that social media brings, it has changed world.  It has connected the world.  It has empowered people to build influence and create on their own terms.  It has allowed soft voices to be heard and exposed acts and people that may have been hidden.  There is no doubt social media has impacted the world.  There appears to be much more to come. 

8.  High Speed Internet (broadband, WiFi and 4G)

The sound of the dialup tone to log-on to the web may seem like a distant memory, but play the sound to anyone and it’ll likely have the effect of scratching nails on a chalkboard.  Our current world of rich media would have resulted in a lot of broken objects with internet speeds less than 1 Mbps.  While broadband came late in the 20th Century, the infrastructure didn’t support mass adoption until the early 00s. 

As download speeds slowly increased, more content and media became available.  Digital downloads and streaming services became viable options with 10 MB+ download speeds.  Where would Netflix be with dial tones? Probably still mailing out DVDs in those red envelopes.

But it was the major transition to mobile internet that transitioned the way we compute.  Laptop and tablet sales have been the beneficiaries of not having to be tethered.  Wifi and 3G/4G are a large factor in the success and rise of tablet computers and why laptops have fared better than desktops. 

Work has become mobile and there is a rise in nomadic businesses.  People can get entire degrees through watching online videos.  New media and content industries have overtaken traditional outlets. 

The high speed mobile internet has powered apps, rich media content, and streaming.  Without it, Blockbuster may still exist, but you would have to get out of your pajamas.    

9. The Cloud

cloud ipad

It’s been around since the 60s, but it’s really become a ‘thing’ in the last 15 years.  From storage to service-based software, as more of our life becomes digital it’s moved outside of our homes and businesses to virtual environments located in far off places. 

Computers act more as portals to the digital world than devices to power software.  Brought about by high speed internet, smartphones, and the increase in other mobile computers (laptops and tablets), the world requires access on-the-go and available across the multitude of devices we own. 

Cloud storage is giving people access to their content anywhere and service-based software is becoming more dynamic to societal and technical change.  The cloud has become synonymous with mobility and access.  Virtually everything we do on computers has a relationship with the cloud including social media, webmail, search, streaming, storage, and business software. 

But it’s not without its share of concerns and problems. Combined with data breaches, data mining, and account hacks (see our blog about it) that have exposed billions of users, the cloud raises serious issues about privacy and security. 

The cloud debate is likely to intensify over the next decade and while the cloud storage and service industry is set to grow considerably over the next few years, many still remain wary.   Not everyone is content with compromising privacy for access. 

10.  The Internet of Things

The Jetsons was an interesting view of the future and one many thought we’d have by now.  Back to the Future 2 showed us the world we could look forward to in 2015.  While many previous visions of the future aren’t quite there yet (still annoyed about hoverboards), the IoT is giving us that future. 

We are heading to an automated life with machine intelligence that will predict what we want and adapt our environment. 

The IoT, however, is much bigger than that.  Amazon’s recent checkout-less store, while experimental, is a sign of what’s to come.  Drone deliveries and ordering your food solely through your phone will provide benefits for many and change how we live.  Amazon has already changed shopping and the IoT will impact the world around us. 

Automated cars and adaptive road layouts, picking out dinner via voice command, paying with your wrist rather than wallet, a home that adapts to your tastes automatically;  aside from floating cities, hoverboards and robot maids with attitudes – the IoT has allowed us to become the Jetsons. 

One more thought:

There are other technologies that could be on the list.  But these ones are the things we see, touch, and experience every day.  All of them are making an impact on life, society, and business.  There have been some negative consequences of these technologies; however, these can be substantially offset by the overwhelming positive impacts. 

All of these have dramatically changed our world.  Importantly, they haven’t done so in isolation.  Virtually all of them are connected and in many ways reliant on one or more of the others to truly create impact. 

However, despite the power of these technologies, we are still really really annoyed we didn’t get the hoverboard.