The 20th century was a boom of innovation that may never be topped in terms of the sheer volume and magnitude of lifestyle-changing, revolutionary technologies. Communications technologies such as the telegraph, telephone and radio go their start in the late 1800’s, but blossomed and improved throughout the 20th century, from cordless phones to car phones and now cell phones. Television, moving pictures on a tube, then to projection screens and flat panels, have been integrated into our lives and are a primary source of entertainment. Computers came along, first, big and bulky, filling whole rooms with vacuum tubes, and now to fitting in the palm of your hand. But I think the most significant and groundbreaking innovation of the time is the Internet.
Techies excitedly calling it the Information Superhighway, the World Wide Web has transformed how we do business, how we communicate, and how we experience life. Thanks to the Internet, under-utilized engineering graduated in India can now make a comfortable living, working for an American organization, instead of having to apply for visas to come and live in the US. Thanks also to the Internet, pictures and video clips of a toddler in one part of the country can be sent to his grandmother on the other side of the country almost instantly. Consumers can take advantage of a more global marketplace. Instead of having a garage sale, we can sell our unneeded items to the highest bidder on eBay. Wikipedia, a web-based wealth of information created and maintained almost entirely by volunteers, dwarfs the best encyclopedia in volume, and surpasses it in accuracy.
Even something as ancient as gold mining was revolutionized by the Internet when a gold digging corporation based in Canada chose to share their confidential specs about a certain mining site. Holding a contest to determine where they should dig for the most profitable return, the gold mining company turned its business around when a team in Australia, who had never been to the actual site, provided a model with 5 digging sites. The first 4 of those sites turned out more gold then the mine had ever seen before.
Instead of TV Guides, we have TiVo that provides updated programming, and can record our favorite programs so we can watch them any time. Instead of a dictionary sitting on our bookshelves, we turn to the web and get not only a definition, but a link to a thesaurus, and links to sites where we can purchase relevant products. Instead of phone books, we just type what we want in Yahoo and can view local results, their hours of operation, phone number, address, and directions to get there. Instead of going from Target to Target trying to find that perfect Christmas gift, we can locate the item on the Target website and identify all of the local Target stores that currently carry them, or order it online if we choose.
Collaborative online communities are creating open source programs for a fraction of mainstream software. Social communities are connecting old classmates and strangers, and standing together for what they believe in. Ideagoras are connecting scientists, artists and engineers to businesses needing such services, allowing companies to effectively outsource the work needed by simply posting it on the web. Whole economies are emerging right behind the screens of thousands of users.
This is just the beginning of how the Internet will change our lives, and all communication technologies are really revolutionary, and these are the truly groundbreaking inventions of the 20th century.