I just read this article on the scale of time by Mike Treder. Part the way through it has an interesting question: What would surprise a person from the year 2000 most about the year 2010? As I don’t know what will happen in the next year, I prefer the 1999 vs. 2009 question: If I got on the phone with 1999 me, what would be the most surprising news?
Let’s start with what was going on in 1999: I had my first cell phone. Black and white LCD screen. No text messaging. I started working for Intelligenesis (later called Webmind, founded by Ben Goertzel). The machines we had were 500 MHz and had 256 MB of RAM. I discovered Google. Internet at home at 56k, but something like 256k at work. I was using Linux and was well aware of open source software. Quake was popular. Computers had CD drives, but DVD drives were starting to come out. Nobody had LCD monitors except on laptops. Dot.com boom was going crazy. The Matrix was a big hit.
Ok, so what would be the biggest surprise for 1999 me? I think the single biggest surprise would be that a black man had been elected president of the United States. I thought it would be at least another generation or two before this would be possible. The next most surprising thing would have been Wikipedia. Though given that Linux development was working well at the time, I guess with the right control structures in place it shouldn’t have been all that surprising. Still, it continues to amaze me at just how good it in fact is.
Many other things seem to have been fairly predictable: internet got faster, bigger, computer specs all went up, people started watching video on the internet, voice and video chatting over the internet, more mobile internet… Would any of these things have surprised me in 1999? I don’t think so. Even the recent rise of social networking: I couldn’t have predicted what that would have looked like, but it’s not all that surprising. Same for internet banking. A lot of what seems to have been going on over the last 10 years is just the maturation of the internet and mobile devices.
What are the most surprising things for you over the last 10 years?
EDIT: Add to my list: free email service with almost 10 GB of storage (gmail), and Google street view.