Last 5 years in Tech -- Basics Edition
December 20, 2009 8:36 PM   Subscribe

What are the major technological changes of the past 5 years, and the major trends that are on the horizon? I have a friend who is currently in prison, and who is very curious about things he sees on television. For example, he has asked about 3G networks, and why phones have keyboards. He wants a primer on what he's missing.

Prior to his incarceration, he did not use a computer much -- a little online browsing, a purchase or two on eBay. He had a basic flip phone. His questions seem to be mainly stemming from what he sees on television or reads about in the paper, so he asked about:

Why do they have those little keyboards? Why do some have touch screens? Are the keyboards on the way out? What is a Blackberry?

Social Networking
What is Twitter? What is Facebook?

Other Devices
What is a Kindle?

I can put together answers for these, but I would like to figure out before I next visit some of the other questions he may have. If you were explaining the past 5 years in popular technology to someone who's only exposure is via media like television and newspapers, what would you include? I don't want to veer into Too GeekyLand, but I want to help him feel connected to the world he sees.

Thank you!
posted by hilaryjade to Technology (17 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Hybrid cars, perhaps?
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:48 PM on December 20, 2009

Best answer: DVRs and TiVo.
Online Streaming music (LaLa, etc)
I would expect my TV and computer to become one and the same in the next 5 years.
Digital Picture frames.
Light bulbs have seen recent advances in terms of energy saving
Debit cards. Cash is going to be a rarer and rarer form of payment going forward
Composite materials are replacing a lot of metals.
RFID readers
Face recognition software
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:58 PM on December 20, 2009

Why do they have those little keyboards? Why do some have touch screens? Are the keyboards on the way out? What is a Blackberry?

They have keyboards because texting and email have become increasingly important for mobile phone users. Some have touch screens because it's a new and useful way to interact with a phone that will probably stick around as the technology increases. Right now many people are sticking with physical keyboards because the ones on touch screens don't provide the best feedback and aren't the easiest to type upon, but as the touchscreen ones improve keyboards likely will be on the decline. A blackberry is a "smart" phone which generally includes the ability to use email, the internet, and a PDA type function.

What is Twitter? What is Facebook?
Twitter is a service that lets people share small bits of interesting information with their friends and strangers they don't know. It's also away for celebrities to keep in touch with the public. Facebook is a site that lets people post information about themselves along with a picture in order to connect with old friends as well as current ones. It lets people share photos, send messages to each other, play games with each other, and chat.

What is a kindle?
A kindle is a tablet like system that lets you read books on its surface with a new display that mimics paper. You can download books wirelessly from its online store.

(On preview, it looks like you didn't need answers to these. Hope they come in handy anyway)
posted by kylej at 9:01 PM on December 20, 2009

what the fuck is a blog?

why the fuck have Youtube and having whole seasons of shows available on DVD or netflix changed the way we watch TV/movies

what the fuck is twilight and hanna montana?


ipods and iphones and all the apps and games and uses they have.

How texting has become a major source of communication for young people

How craigslist is a good place to start looking for work when he gets out.
posted by Jon_Evil at 9:02 PM on December 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Also:
Google Voice and similar services. Phones and phone numbers are changing including POTS lines.
Fiber Optic rather than copper cable. Bandwidth.
Storage and Memory has increased exponentially. Size of hard drives.
Instantaneousness of communication (IM, Twitter, email, SMS, MMS, etc) It has flipped to the point where you now have to proactively stop communication whereas 5-7 years ago you had to proactively pursue it
Security detection devices (Airports, large cities, etc)
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:05 PM on December 20, 2009

All of the google services (gmail, reader, docs, wave, calender etc).
posted by kylej at 9:20 PM on December 20, 2009

You might also want to mention netbooks.
posted by kylej at 9:20 PM on December 20, 2009

Blu-Ray players. The resurgence of 3D filmmaking and the different 3D processes involved-- IMAX 3D, RealD, etc. Motion capture technology and how it can be used to digitally recreate actors' performances (as in Avatar, on the far-out end, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, on the more prosaic end). Pixar's continued reign over animation.

If your pal is a movie geek, he may want to know about the evolution of crowd simulation since the Helm's Deep battle in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, or the existence of digital-agent-based crowd technology in the first place if he never got to see LOTR. A lot of crowds you see in films and commercials these days aren't really there.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:35 PM on December 20, 2009

Best answer: I would start printing him wikipedia pages if you can. Might want to start with the wikipedia page on wikipedia though to give him some background for where the articles come from. If he's interested, sending him a packet of wikipedia articles once/twice a month could be a fun resource for him.
posted by zachlipton at 10:01 PM on December 20, 2009

Hulu, and the general concept of watching TV shows online.

Also, social networking as a whole. Not just specific sites, but the concept and how it's changed the way people interact. Social networks did exist 5 years ago, but they have become mainstream, whereas they were significantly more popular with college and high school aged people back then.
posted by inmediasres at 10:09 PM on December 20, 2009

Flatscreens. Five years ago, the typical TV was still a CRT, I think. Now it's a plasma or giant LCD.

The penetration of Internet access in general life has continued, to the point that random municipal services and whatnot now assume that you'll want to interact via their website rather than telephone.

The decline and death of newspapers and television as social fixtures.
posted by hattifattener at 10:29 PM on December 20, 2009

Here are my top 4 consumer tech trends of the past 5 years:

- Social networking (Facebook)
- Smartphones (iPhone)
- Crowdsourcing & user-generated content (Wikipedia, YouTube, blogs)
- Web applications (Gmail, Google Docs)
posted by lunchbox at 11:42 PM on December 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Brick and mortar movie rental is dying, it's now Netflix.
Streaming Netflix.
posted by dancestoblue at 12:02 AM on December 21, 2009

If he's worried, it might be good it to reassure him that these technologies have not been universally embraced by everyone who isn't in prison. Incandescent lightbulbs, paper books, cell phones without keyboards, and people who don't use Twitter are still ubiquitous.

His questions seem to be mainly stemming from what he sees on television or reads about in the paper

You could explain that one impact of the internet is that traditional media is strapped for cash and finding it progressively more difficult to deliver advertising in the ways he might expect, so the line between what's an ad and what's "news" is getting blurrier. As a result, things like 3G networks and phones with keyboards might be presented as if they were more important to more people than they actually are.
posted by jon1270 at 4:12 AM on December 21, 2009

Best answer: Nthing sending him printouts of Wikipedia articles on stuff he's interested in. Wikipedia itself is something new he won't be a familiar with, and usually does a good job with technical subjects. If the Wikipedia article is messed up, as they sometimes are, send him a print-out of the discussion pages too, so he can see what an edit war looks like - that's interesting in its own right.

Let him know that the new technology he's seeing and hearing about aren't actually as ubiquitous as he might think. TV will give him the impression that everybody's using iPhones, Blackberries, Kindle, Twitter, etc. Actually a lot of the new stuff is kind of expensive, and not everybody can afford it, and a lot of people don't like social networking. Most people are still using plain old flip phones and reading paper books (but most of the phones take pictures now).

About Kindle - the main thing is that the e-paper screens it has are about as easy to read as paper. The Kindle band itself may not be dominating the market anymore after a few years.

New trends on the horizon: Send him information about the OLPC project's XO laptop (the technical innovations of the laptop, rather OLPC as a charity project), and about netbooks. The XO incorporated (and invented) technology that's not commercially available yet, but a lot of it will be in a few years. (If you haven't been following this, you might be interested too.)

Best wishes to your friend.
posted by nangar at 4:58 AM on December 21, 2009

YouTube! Is there a music video you haven't seen in a while, or a clip from a movie or a TV show you used to like? You can probably watch it right now. It's hard to believe that five years ago, that capability simply didn't exist.
posted by EarBucket at 7:31 AM on December 21, 2009

GPS. The idea that you can drive around with (or carry around) a device that will tell you (and anyone else you want to broadcast to) where you are and how to get where you're going is a huge change.
posted by decathecting at 4:36 PM on December 21, 2009

« Older Sketchy journalism & littering   |   Is my landlord trying to make a soup out of me? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.