Celebrations are under way as we mark the 20th birthday of Which? Computing! What tech were you using two decades ago?
I’d been writing a bit about technology at the Financial Times, and it was around this time that I started focusing more on it.
I grew up with tech: my dad worked for IBM in the 60s and 70s and, by 1989, he was running an early version of the smart home from his Apple II, using sensors and thermometers to keep tabs on the heating bill.
Fast forward to today and sometimes it feels like I’m living in a science-fiction film. I can control my heating, my lights and my music with my voice, I can answer the door via an app even when I’m not at home.
I even keep tabs on when my cat goes in and out via her tweeting catflap, and when and how much she eats thanks to her smart dish that connects to an app.
Sound the horns! Daphne is here, floofalicious feline. My joy knows no bounds. pic.twitter.com/mHODiBLrRg
— Daphne's Catflap (@DaphneFlap) June 11, 2019
We’re all now used to carrying a pocket-sized computer around to help us navigate, keep in touch, instantly search for information, pay for things, listen to music and watch last night’s EastEnders.
How far we’ve come
Looking back over the tech developments of the past 20 years makes me realise just how far we’ve come. Back in our first issue, we were offering help with choosing a digital camera and we were worrying about the Y2K bug, while offering tips on how to send a fax using your computer.
🚨 THREAD 🚨
It's Which? Computing's birthday! We're 20 years old 🎉🎈
To celebrate, we've taken a look at the biggest tech moments from the past two decades 🤯
— Which? (@WhichUK) June 11, 2019
When the first issue of Which? Computing went to press, the BlackBerry and being able to deal with emails on the move was three years away; Gmail and Facebook were four years into the future, and Britain’s first broadband customer wouldn’t get online for another year – with a blistering speed of 512kbps
Other things we take for granted now were barely twinkles in their inventors’ eyes: Google Maps didn’t launch until 2005, and the first Android smartphone – the HTC Dream – wouldn’t hit the streets until 2008.
Steve Jobs, Apple’s visionary boss, unveiled the iPhone in 2007, changing how we interact with technology in one fell swoop. Personal digital organisers had been around for a while before the iPhone (after my Psion 5 I moved on to a Sony Clie), but it was the iPhone that created the personal, almost intimate relationship we have with our devices today.
These days I won’t leave the house without my Kindle (launched in 2007) but it’s not the end of the world if I forget to bring my purse with me because I pay for almost everything with my phone.
Hits and misses
Some innovations have fallen by the wayside: we all pointed and laughed at the first ‘Glass Explorers’ who bravely took to the streets wearing Google Glass.
Others have evolved. The Pebble watch, which launched after a hugely successful Kickstarter in 2013, is no longer with us, but it’s now commonplace to see people wearing smartwatches.
Looking back over the past two decades, it’s clear that while some tech has been amazing, other technologies have brought us to a troubled place.
I’m broadly optimistic that tech is, by and large, a good thing. And there are plenty of technologies I wouldn’t want to live without. But what about you? What were you using 20 years ago, and what wouldn’t you want to live without now?
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