Magid: Looking back on a decade of technology

Magid: Looking back on a decade of technology

Tuesday is not only New Year’s Eve, it’s also the last day of the 2010s. And, as I look back at that decade, I recall some very promising and very disturbing occurrences.

Larry Magid 

Let’s start on a mostly positive note.  I say “mostly,” because even some of the good things that came our way over the past 10 years have their negative side effects.

The decade began with the first popular tablet, the Apple iPad, which was announced on January 27, 2010, at an event I attended. At the time I called it “underwhelming,” and history proved me at least partially right as sales of the iPad and other tablets – after a steady four-year rise starting in 2010, have declined over the past six years. I attribute that to bigger phones and smaller laptops along with expected market saturation, but the iPad has still been a success, with more than 360 million sold, according to Lifewire.

Other Apple innovations of the decade are the MacBook Air (2008) and the Apple Watch (2015) and Siri. Weighing only 3 pounds (now 2.75 pounds), it represented a major innovation in slim and lightweight laptops that are also rugged. Lenovo, HP, Dell, Microsoft all have competing laptops in that category, but Apple was the lightweight innovator. Apple didn’t invent the smart watch, but the Apple Watch is the first one worn by millions of people.  Apple Siri (2011) helped jump start voice control of devices, a trend picked up by Google, Microsoft, Amazon and many other device makers.  Many TVs and cable boxes now have voice remotes.

Speaking of voice control, 2015 saw the introduction of the Amazon Echo which jump started the smart speaker and smart display market. I have several Echos and Google Home devices in my house, and it’s hard to imagine not being able to order-up music, get traffic and weather info and factoids from nearly any room in my house without having to lift a finger. Smart displays take it a step further, letting you see recipes and view videos by voice commands.

These smart devices are an example of “mostly” good. There are serious privacy and security implications of devices that can listen or in some cases even see into your home. Even if you don’t worry about the popular ones from well known companies, there is the risk of similar devices from China and elsewhere that could be used to spy on homes either deliberately or because of inadequate security.

Streaming video

Roku introduced its first HD streaming player in 2010, which helped jump start the way most people now consume entertainment. Video streaming is now built into most TVs and many cable boxes, and it’s made it possible for services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, HBO Go and – most recently Disney Plus and Apple Plus to become major sources of home entertainment. The impact of streaming is one of the reasons we’ve entered a new golden age of television. There is more content than ever, some of which is very good. In 1961, FCC Commissioner Newton Minow branded broadcast TV “a vast wasteland,” and a half century later, that’s no longer the case.

This was a huge decade for transportation. The first Uber ride was in July 2010. Lyft was founded in 2012. Both of these ride-hailing services are side products of smartphone apps.  It was also the decade that saw self-driving cars go from a dream to reality, though it will be awhile before they get regulatory approval for full deployment. Tesla introduced its Model S in 2012 and introduced autopilot, a significant milestone on the path toward self-driving in 2015. The Model 3 – the closest thing to an affordable Tesla – rolled out in 2018, and now nearly every automaker is working on both electric and semi-autonomous vehicles.

I was at CES in 2013 when the first 4K sets were on display. Sony made the mistake of putting one next to a 1080p high-definition set and I was hard pressed to say which TV looked better. That’s changed over the decade thanks not only to the enhanced resolution of 4K but other technologies like HDR, Dolby Vision which improve picture quality. Now 4K sets are noticeably (but not dramatically) better than 1080p. It wasn’t until this month that I bought my first 4K TV (a 65-inch 2019 TCL series 6 model) for $799, which is much better than sets that sold for more than $10,000 earlier in the decade. And I spent extra on features that make the set only marginally better than ones you can get for as little as $400.

Some downsides

Unfortunately, there are some tech developments that are not so great, most notably the way social media has been used to divide us and impact our elections. I won’t go through what happened in 2016 and threatens our 2020 elections, but it’s extremely disturbing. This decade has brought numerous security breaches with data on nearly everyone potentially getting into the hands of criminals. The decade also saw a massive new privacy law, the Global Data Privacy Regulation, going into effect in Europe with similar bills in California and other states with sweeping federal regulations likely on top for the 2020s. And the privacy culprits aren’t just shady hackers, but include big public companies like Facebook and Google, Amazon and even Apple.

It’s also disturbing that a lot of people are exhibiting signs of social media obsession. I won’t call Facebook, Twitter and YouTube addicting, but I do admit that there are many people who have trouble balancing their use of these technologies. One of the best received presentations at the 2019 Family Online Safety Conference was a talk by film-maker Tiffany Shlain, based on her new book 24/6, which advocates that we take a weekly “digital sabbath.” Regardless of whether you follow Shlain’s specific advice, she reminds us that we need to look away from our devices periodically to pay attention to the people and beauty around us.

My list of significant products and issues of the 2020s only scratches the surface. A lot has happened in the last 10 years, but fasten your seatbelts. The rate of change will only accelerate in the 2020s. Happy new decade.

Larry Magid is a tech journalist and internet safety activist.

Published at Thu, 26 Dec 2019 11:00:16 +0000