Technology sometimes moves more quickly than our ability to absorb the changes - even in such simple devices like remote controls and mobile phones
Our forebears 100 years ago could not have dreamt of the emergence of television, computers, satellites, lasers, iPods, or Google and Facebook. Nor of a global population (then approaching 2 billion) trending towards 10 billion people 150 years later in 2060. Or that a 21st century challenge would be an ageing population, not a prematurely dying one.
The defining technologies of the 21st century may not yet have taken form, but we can be certain that society’s challenges, our way of life, and our standard of living will be reshaped and improved by inventions and system leaps yet ahead.
Looking at the recent past, when Paul Keating handed government to John Howard in March 1996, none of amazon.com, eBay, Google or Yahoo! were yet a significant public enterprise.
All subsequently listed in the following three years and helped propel the dot.com era.
In 1996, one in five Australians owned a mobile phone. The phones were mainly analogue and in the hands of commercial and tradespeople. The mobile phone had just arrived as an important productivity tool. Today, there are more phones than people and all are digital with features far beyond simple voice calls. And they resemble mobile video handsets more than telephones. No business - or teenager - can operate without one.
Although the personal computer had appeared in the early 1980s, by 1996 only one in three Australian homes owned a computer and fewer than one in 20 had internet access. Today, more than three-quarters of homes and all businesses have a PC, and almost all of them also have some form of internet access.
In 1996 domestic internet access speeds were just 14.4 kilobits a second. Content was text-only - no video, let alone YouTube. Outside of engineering and technology firms and universities, email was just appearing in the more progressive businesses. Today, almost all enterprises have internet access, with the government recently announcing an ambitious plan to build a national high speed, 100Mbs broadband network.
In 1996, wireless text messaging was not available in Australia - at all. Today more than a billion SMS messages are sent each month, a volume to be further increased by the number of tweets being broadcast by the Twitter message service. Subscription television had just been launched on the back of a controversial dual cable rollout, but plasma and LCD screens were yet to appear.
The past two decades have seen an evolution from analogue products (think vinyl records, black telephones tethered to wall sockets, photographic film, 26-inch boxy televisions) to an all-digital ecosystem largely shaped by advances in the broad categories of IT, communications and the internet. The last industry to convert to a digital base is free-to-air network television, which will belatedly join the 21st century by 2013 according to the government’s timetable.
Spending on information technology has lifted to about half of many firm’s capital budget with large investments still ahead to address remaining legacy issues and new opportunities.
Ubiquitous communications have given meaning to the concept of 24/7. Technology sometimes moves more quickly than our ability to absorb the changes - even in such simple devices like remote controls and mobile phones.
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