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    • We hear statements all the time in technology news like "the world is moving faster than it ever has before." But that's false. The impact of technology on our daily lives has diminished in the 21st century. The advent of the computer, internet, and the iPhone hasn't done much in our modern lives like previous inventions have done for previous generations.

      If a person living in NYC in 1718 jumped ahead a whole lifetime to 1793, their life wouldn't look a whole lot different. In both lifetimes they use a pit toilet, they get around by foot or on a horse, they light the night with candles, they live in a small home built with hand tools, and they communicate by mail. Skip ahead another 75 years to 1868. Things are still mostly the same. Buildings are a few stories at most. Toilets are starting to be introduced. You still get around by foot or horse.

      But then skip ahead another lifetime to 1943. This person wouldn't recognize New York city. The Empire State building towers at an order of magnitude higher than anything 75 years prior. You can talk to people over the telephone. The streets are no longer filled with horse poop because there's a subway. Planes fly overhead. There's the magical thing called the lightbulb that illuminates everything at night. 1943 is absolutely futuristic to someone that just time traveled from 1868. And daily life is a lot more comfortable. The list of inventions that forever changed daily lives' in this short 75-year stretch is endless.

      Then you jump ahead another 75 years, and it's today. People live in the same way. They have toilets in their homes. My home is 76 years old. Cars, planes, and trains are pretty much the same. If you own a Model T, it's now worth a lot of money, but has the same internal combustion engine as most cars driving on the road now. Buildings are slightly taller than the Empire State. TV broadcast got replaced with Netflix, but we still watch 75-year-old movies. Computers, the internet, and iPhones haven't changed our lives.

      I wonder if technological productivity will pick up again and start changing our lives dramatically. Maybe we'll always be on a plateau coming out of the early 1900's. Do you think we would recognize 2093 if we could jump ahead?

      Photo: Nat Geo

    • Hmm when I first read your post it sounded reasonable, but then I started thinking about all the things that have changed in the last 75 years, and I think there have been quite a few things that have changed: plastics, velcro, washer driers, microwave ovens, inexpensive plane travel, much of which is a product of the space race.

      For medicine we vaccinations for polio (among other severe diseases), antibiotics had just come around at the turn of the last 75 years; many causes of death are things of the past and life expectancy has increased by decades in western nations.

      The biggest change to daily life in very recent years has been access to information. We have satellite communications, fiberoptic cables running all the way around the planet, and fully accessible web connected computers in our pocket. It allows us to immediately consume information (for better or worse) any time, anywhere. We can also instantly contact anyone no matter where either party is.

    • What a fascinating topic. I think our lives today are wildly different from 75 years ago because the internet had leveled the global playing field. 75 years ago, I would not have been able to live and work from anywhere in the planet using the internet. I'm originally from Lithuania and as early as 1995, no one back home even dared dream of something that is so common today: being a digital nomad.

      The opportunity to go global because of the internet has made a huge impact on people's lives all over the planet. A Bangladeshi guy can now come up with an app, launch it online and make $100,000 within days - something his father, or even an older brother, would not dream about. An indigenous leather tanner from Ecuador can apply for a Kiva loan online and finance an extension to his workshop so he can sell unique handmade leather backpacks in North America via Etsy. For people like me - from the former Soviet block - and people from the developing world, the change is massive because now, everybody can compete and offer their skills globally just by going online.

      I'm sure the same is true for people in the West. So many people are choosing the life of discover and adventure because they no longer need to work 9-5 jobs; they can freelance online, whenever from wherever.

      I'm not very well versed in things like medicine and science but I suspect great leaps have been made, especially in neuroscience, epigenetics, molecular biology.

      Standard of living has also significantly improved around the world, as well as human rights.

    • I believe that the scientific innovation that's happened in the last 75 years is nothing short of incredible. In my mind, the access to information via the internet could be the most significant achievement we've made as a human race. Someone in 1943 couldn't have ever imagined a world like the one we live in now with access to everything in our hands via a mobile phone.

      I do wonder though did the introduction of the light bulb and the toilet in people's lives make a more significant difference to them than the introduction of the internet and the iPhone in our lives? I don't know. I myself would choose to live in the dark for Internet.

      This conversation was provoked by what I read in The Rise and Fall of American Growth. The author, Robert Gordon, makes the case that our economic productivity is slowing down resulting in less meaningful changes in our daily lives these last few decades. But I'm not all too sure that's accurate because it's hard for an economist to quantify innovation and growth in a software-driven world.

    • "I do wonder though did the introduction of the light bulb and the toilet in people's lives make a more significant difference to them than the introduction of the internet and the iPhone in our lives?"

      That's a very interesting thought. I suppose it depends a lot on where you were born, and whether your were male or female. As a female in 1943 America, you were expected to be a good housewife and know your place, no? Light bulbs or not?

      As a journalist, I'm fascinated how internet is changing the international map of human rights. You can now report news live from anywhere in the world in real time; a single story of a human trafficking victim, going viral on the internet, can now influence a country's government to change a law. A single photo gone viral can open borders (think of the photo of the dead Syrian boy on the Greek beach).

      Economically, it seems that Google is already more influential than any government (or at least, than a lot of them). Crowdfunding platforms have enabled countless entrepreneurs to launch their products and successful businesses. I have a feeling that the internet has done more for the poor and the under-privileged than a light bulb.

      Historically, I would wager that the most important inventions were the Gutenberg press, the steam engine, and the internet. Perhaps progress isn't quite about comforts but rather, about enabling humankind to move forward not just economically but also socially?

    • I have a few comments about this thread so far:

      1. The iphone is not important in the grand scheme of things. It is merely a well-conceived integration of separate technologies, not a fundamental leap.

      2. The internet is also not in the same league as the Gutenberg press and the steam engine. On the other hand, the transistor was a revolution. The information age is thanks to the transistor, not the internet.

      3. I believe the pace of technology is accelerating, not decelerating in the way that was portrayed here. That being said, the term is too loosely defined

    • 2. The internet is also not in the same league as the Gutenberg press and the steam engine. On the other hand, the transistor was a revolution. The information age is thanks to the transistor, not the internet.
      Why isn't internet in the same league?

    • It's probably too soon to evaluate the historical impact of the Internet, but my sense is that it's easily as important as Gutenberg, and potentially more important. The net makes much of the world's knowledge available everywhere. About half the world's population is already connected; it won't take long before it's close to universal. While this might not seem like a revolutionary change in industrialized countries that already had high literacy and extensive mass communications media, it's going to be much more important to billions of people who have never had access to so much information. And search engines make it easier for everyone to navigate the sea of data (if they care to). At the same time, there are dystopian possibilites regarding the loss of privacy, autonomy, and personal freedom. We don't yet know how all of this is going to play out yet, but I find it difficult to believe there won't be a major impact.

    • It's extremely interesting to see what access to the internet means in countries under totalitarian regimes, like Cuba. There, connection to the internet is still sparse and very expensive ($1 per hour in a country where the average monthly salary is $30), but it's already making a massive impact. People are finding out about the world - and going into the world. I met a street jazz musician in Havana whose band got invited to play in the US and Europe purely because they managed to upload a video of their music to Youtube. For them, this is absolutely huge.

    • One metric defines what I believe is the greatest human achievement over the last 75 years; an increased human lifespan.

      In 1943 and in the U.S., the average lifespan was around 63 years. (Life expectancy in the USA, 1900-98) As of early 2018 the average US life expectancy is projected to be an average of 78.7 years, mostly due to medical advances (especially infant-through-teen health), healthier heating systems, proliferation of air conditioners, safer work and home conditions, transportation safety improvements and disaster response systems. A 16 year improvement over 75 years time is pretty astonishing, although the last two years shows America slipping backwards for a number of reasons.

      Of course, an increasing lifespan along with increasing child births, resulting in a population explosion, is stressing both our habitat and our economy.

    • The transistor improved vacuum tubes by serveral orders of magnitude, putting humanity in the Moore curve and enabling the digitization of the world and the beginning of the information age. The internet exists thanks to the transistor (in fact, around the time the transistor was invented, someone at Bell Labs made the prediction something like the internet would be developed). The transistor without the internet would still put information on the hands of billions, just far less conveniently.

    • Don't you think the innovations that have led to what the internet is today go way beyond the transistor? It's a beautiful medley of infrastructure, organizations, hardware, and software that makes it so compelling.

      I hear what you're saying about the transistor. It made it all possible. But even before the inception of the transistor, the telegraph and telephone paved the way for a connected world.

    • You said it yourself: the internet is a beautiful medley of technologies and human organizations. You can say the same thing about the smartphone. It too is a beautiful medley of materials science, MEMS sensors, microchips, service providers and regulatory bodies. Is the smartphone a revolution? Sure, its just not in the same league as the steam engine and printing press.

      When Brattain, Shockley, Bardeen and others discovered that some pure metals, when seeded with impurities and stacked in a certain way could direct the flow of electrons given another current... that is a revolution (and a Nobel Prize).