What Has Technology Changed In The Past Twenty Years

10 Things That Technology Has Changed In The Past Twenty Years

I’ve started the Google Squared course and our very first live class took us on a journey highlighting the huge and rapid changes that have occurred in the digital world and technology over the past few years.  We’re now living in a world of ‘immediacy’, where this generation expects instant access to everything ‘NOW’, be it music, TV, photos, information, data, product.

It started me thinking about the days, when, as a youngster I would be intrigued by my Grandad’s tales of yesteryear  which would usually start off with “back when I was a lad”, and find myself feeling a bit like that when I compare my teen years (late 70’s and 80’s) to the current ‘connected age’ (although, of course, I don’t say “back when I was a lad” :)).

So, what’s changed in the past 20 years or so?  Here’s a little trip down memory lane and a few examples:

The Way We Watch TV And What We Watch

Back in the 80’s if you wanted to watch TV, you had to put up with the channel that the household majority had decided would be the evenings’ viewing material.

We had one TV, and if you didn’t want to watch what the family was watching, you didn’t watch at all.

Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for households to have several TV’s, with the average number of sets per household in the UK rising year on year for the past decade.  The average in 2012 was 2.84 according to this research.

Of course, now, if you don’t want to watch an episode of your favourite show at the time scheduled by the broadcasters, that’s not a problem.  You can watch it on ‘catch up’ TV or download it on ‘On Demand’.  You can watch it on an BBC or ITV’s iPlayer whenever it suits you.  Gone are the days when you have to change your plans to avoid missing out on your favourite episode of Doctor Who.

The TV’s themselves of course, have totally changed.  Back in the 80’s they were huge ‘squares’, around a foot in depth (enter the corner TV cabinet to accommodate their huge backsides).  Ugly things too, brown ‘faux walnut’ wood ordinarily.  Nowadays, there hardly looks to be space in modern TV’s to fit their working parts, just huge flat (or now curved) black screens, living on walls as much as freestanding.

TV, of course, is now 24/7.  Gone are the days when the test card came on and the final white pixel dot disappeared into the darkness at midnight.  There are now a multitude of niche channels for everything from Christmas films to cookery, sport, religion, day or night.  You name it, there’s probably a channel for it, and you can watch it whenever you want.

If there’s nothing there you fancy from the hundreds of channels provided by the likes of Sky, you can simply call upon Netflix or Love Film.  Fancy a box set?  Just download it for a viewing fest and save yourself the £40 cost of buying it from the supermarket at Christmas.

None of this is great for TV commercial advertisers of course, as a once captive audience simply fast forwards through the ads on the programmes that they have saved to watch later.

Video And Audio Tape

‘Back in the day’, it was not uncommon to take pride in your dust collecting video and audio cassette (tapes) collections.  We would record everything and I lost count of the number of packs of white video labels I bought.  We even taped tapes, both video and audio.  I recall taping the top 40 ‘charts’ regularly on a Sunday night.  It was part of my weekly routine.

There were two different types of video players – Betamax and VHS.  Sony’s Betamax became a laughing stock and ultimately failed to make a success of their product offering.  The story of how and why that happened can be found here:

Out of the birth of video players the video rental store industry came, providing alternative entertainment for evenings and weekends, where you’d “stay in and watch a video” after a trip to the video shop, which in itself was a vital and enjoyable part of the ‘event’.

Today you can download a film at will and pretty much immediately, meaning the demise of the home grown video collection and en-masse closure of video rental stores, the largest of which, Blockbusters, finally closed their doors in December 2013.  At their height Blockbusters had 528 stores nationwide, reducing to just over 90 before they ceased trading at the end of last year.  The emergence of Love Film and Netflix as a competing product / service was cited as contributing to their demise.  Of course, Sky Movies won’t have helped.

More info at : http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-25345257

The video box sets which were a must-have on any Christmas list were replaced by on demand box sets, which is actually a positive as the costs for a bought ‘box set’ were ridiculous.

We’re all becoming videographers too, with You Tube celebrities being born from their amateur ‘how to’ podcasts and even pop stars finding fame from this channel.  Justin Bieber was discovered via You Tube before going on to make millions from his singing career, whilst also running wild and upsetting his neighbours in California.

The high spec of our phones nowadays allow us to create near professional videos of almost anything.  Of course, this does not always turn out well, as the likes of the various ‘Sex tape’ celebrities may confirm.  However, one could say that often the viral publicity created as a result of these types of ‘home films’, for wannabe pop stars, gives them the exposure (pardon the pun), that they needed to elevate their careers in the first place.

There’s also another dark side to home made films, with the emergence of the ‘happy slapping’ craze which popped up a while back, whereby teens would film friends attacking strangers.


Getting the albums and boxes of family photographs out going back years is definitely amongst the more enjoyable pastimes that this connected age will miss out on.  It’s just not the same going through photos on a screen, when compared to actually handling an aged photo from years back.

Today’s tiny cameras and mobile phones can save hundreds, if not thousands of photographs, and of course, they’re instantly produced.  No need to take your film to the developers and wait a week or two before you could pick them up.   That’s if you even got there with it in the first place – Every ‘junk drawer’ in the land must have had at least one undeveloped camera film in there, rotting away.

No need now to hope for the best either.  ‘Back in the day the functionality to preview a photograph before it was saved simply did not exist.  Now, we are just able to instantly reject a photograph that we don’t consider flattering – DELETE. We can even enhance and photoshop pictures to put us in a better light.

Facebook galleries, ‘selfies’ Flickr, Instagram and Snapchat have created an ‘I’m a model’ society – with the ‘pout’ being standard pose.

The Way We Listen To Music

‘Back in the day’, the household record player was a piece of furniture in itself.  I hasten to add that this was was before the eighties of course, but I recall this.  Wooden and sometimes as large as 6ft long, with the record player housed in the middle of the piece with cupboards and racks either side to slot 12″ vinyls (albums) into.

When not in use, the record player doubled up nicely as a sideboard, housing ornaments and lacy tablet mats ;).

Dads everywhere took great care of their records, for fear of scratching them, forbidding children from touching the needle on the deck.  Those less cautious, undoubtedly, had to endure the odd ‘jumpy’ song where a vinyl had been damaged.  It was a skill to master knowing exactly on a 12 inch your favourite song was and being able to drop the needle of the player exactly at the right point to start the tune seamlessly.

As time went on audio cassettes and their players were introduced, and records began to decline in popularity, aside from ‘collectors’.  The ‘Walkman’ became the must have mobile song playing device.  Teenagers everywhere ‘taped’ songs off the radio and attempted to edit their recordings, piecing together two tracks to eliminate the DJ’s ramblings between them (even though copyright laws didn’t allow it).

If the innards became unravelled from the cassette, it was simply a case of using a pencil in the centre of the cassette to wind it all back up again.  Happy days.

CD’s and hifi systems came along.  Then iTunes and Spotify.  Then, with the advent of the iPhone came the iPhone player.  No longer did you have to ‘guesstimate’ where your favourite track was on a record.  You didn’t have to endure B side standard songs used as filler for albums.  You could now simply download onto your iPhone only the individual songs that you wanted and even create your own album, now renamed a ‘playlist’ on Spotify.

Another sector of the music industry fell eventually as a result of these changes, the walk in music store, with HMV being arguably the most noteworthy, going into administration in January 2013.

More info here: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/01/15/hmv-falls-into-administraion-expert-views_n_2477384.html


My my, phones have changed in the past few decades.  Domestic landlines have been dramatically impacted by the huge growth in mobile phone use (according to The International Telecoms Union there will be more mobile phones than humans on the earth by the end of next year), going full circle in terms of ascendant and descendant popularity.


The domestic landline’s widespread use did not really emerge until the late 1970’s and their replacement by the mobile phone continues to lead to a consistent decline in use today.

I recall the excitement in my childhood home when we had our first telephone installed, the standard ‘BT cream’ phone with a dialler.

Parents would put a metal barrel dialler lock (which only they had the key to) on the phone to deter teens from ‘running up their phone bills’ whilst they were out at work,

There was a workaround of course, which all kids knew :).

Tapping out the number in a morse code style on the receiver meant you could make the call without using the dialler.

It was commonplace to see a telephone money box at the side of the phone in which ‘phoneless’ neighbours needing to make a call could leave their contribution.  Some neighbours would even use you as their personal receptionist, giving the house on the street’s’ telephone number as their own so that you would have to go along and bring them to the phone to receive THEIR call on YOUR phone.

Nowadays, it’s rare for anyone to own a telephone with a dialler, now coined as ‘retro’.

Around 1985, along came the early mobile phone offerings.  Huge, brick sized pieces of equipment with very obvious aerials.  Cries of “those will never catch on” could be heard and those who spoke loudly on them whilst walking down the street, with their aerials protruding above their heads, were mocked.

They did catch on of course, and now serve as an almost ‘extension to our arm’.  Research at Gartner in late 2013 indicated “global mobile phone sales will reach 1.81 billion for all of 2013, a 3.4 per cent increase on 2012.”


Interestingly, and as a result of the huge growth in mobile phone use, It’s increasingly less common to actually have a domestic landline.

A study in 2012 showed that over half of American homes do not even have or use their landline.



Skype, Google hangouts, Facebook messenger, mobile phones of course, Facetime

Computers & Data Storage

Computers were huge. Big beige things with brown screens. Huge towers and you had to back everything up every night onto disks.

You can now ‘back up’ online using services such as Carbonite or storing your data ‘in the cloud’ on Amazon, or similar such providers.

With this de-personalisation of data storage however, come concerns over privacy and what may become of all this cloud based depositing of information by individuals.

June 2014 saw ‘Reset The Net‘ day launched, designed as a call out to people to take a portion of the internet and encrypt it.


Born out of the digital age and our obsession with text messaging as quickly as possible, came the SMS language, textese, although it looks to be one that will be short lived.

Here’s Wikipedia’s explanation of that one.  Say no more.

” SMS language or textese (also known as txt-speaktxtesechatspeaktxttxtspktxtktxtotexting languagetxt lingoSMSishtxtslang,or txt talk) is a term for the abbreviations and slang commonly used with mobile phone text messaging, but sometimes used with other Internet-based communication such as email and instant messaging.

Three features of early mobile phone messaging encouraged users to use abbreviations: (a) Text entry was difficult, requiring multiple key presses on a small keypad to generate each letter; (b) Messages were limited to 160 characters, and (c) it made texting faster.

Once it became popular it took on a life of its own and was often used outside of its original context. At its peak, it was the cause of vigorous debate about its potentially detrimental effect on literacy, but with the advent of alphabetic keyboards on smartphones its use, and the controversies surrounding it, have receded.”


Other words have also originated from this recent digital age, such as ‘selfie’, ‘twerking’, ‘phablet’, Srsly (seriously), OMG (oh, my God), photobomb.  The list goes on and will inevitable grow.


How Children Play

In the 70’s and 80’s we used to ‘play out’, garden hopping, hide and seek, hopscotch, tag, knock a door run, marbles, handstands.  Playgrounds were not built particularly with health and safety in mind and many times I would return home with a grazed knee from a fall from swings or an over-zealous leap from a spinning roundabout.

Nowadays, games console leisure time is the indoors ‘safe’ equivalent of playing out, with the XBox 360 selling well over 8.4 million consoles in the UK by June 2013.


Of course, this generation of ‘gamer’ youth is becoming an adult generation of ‘gamers’ too and marketers know this.  Gamification (definition:the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service: source:Wikipedia),  has become big business.

There are even publications dedicated to the use of gamification as a tool for engagement in business marketing.  http://www.amazon.com/Loyalty-3-0-Revolutionize-Engagement-Gamification/dp/0071813373

How We Work

Telex machineOne of my first jobs was as an office junior in an insurance brokers, and Monday’s was the ‘big filing day’, with smaller amounts of filing at the end of each weekday.  I dreaded it.  Relentless boredom from 9am to 5pm every Monday.  There was paper everywhere.  It was commonplace, with many businesses even having a ‘filing room’, whereby staff were employed full time to literally ‘file’ paper in the hope that none would make a mistake and lose records.

The offices of the late 80’s and early 90’s were unrecognisable compared with modern day.

Don’t get me started on the office equipment – The rarely used telex machine sat in the corner, there was a constant clatter of typewriter keyboards and carriage return levers being flung back and forth.

Making a mistake when I moved on to being a typist meant sheer horror as backspace did not double up as delete then.

The correction paper had to come out, eventually followed by Tipex sheets, then paste (Godsend) as the office evolved.  When eventually word processors were introduced they were huge things with monitors at least a foot in depth (cream coloured).  The typist doubled up as the office photocopier back then as everything had several copies separated by carbon sheets.

The ‘paperless’ office environment we now live in would have been alien to office workers back then.  Wireless keyboards, mice and screens, and a networked business environment allow office workers to connect with their working life anywhere and continuously, even allowing organisations to outsource work internationally for cost savings.

How We Travel

In the 70’s and 80’s the British seaside holiday was the norm and it was rare to ‘go abroad’.  If you did (90’s), a trip to the high street travel agent was pretty much the only way to go, initially to gather your brochures together, then to pore through them (part of the fun), although you could rarely work out the price from them.

You would not dream of tailor-making your own holiday (it was the job of the travel agent), but now you can even book a room in someone else’s house via services such as Air B & B.

‘Teletext’ and ‘Ceefax’ holidays arrived, and the bug for low cost international holidays to destinations such as Spain and Majorca hit.  You would have to be quick if you found a holiday on Teletext as you would struggle to find the same listing again and loading the pages took forever.  It was the early advent of the low cost travel holidays online.

Now, it’s often cheaper to catch a plane than a train.  A recent trip I took to London was around £90 return Manchester to Heathrow, whereas the train was well over £150 and took twice as long.

Where Will It End?

The list could go on and on.  70’s and 80’s life is unrecognisable now.  Who knows where it will all end.  There are many predictions around the future in this ‘connected age’, some of which I will be visiting in future posts … Look out for my post on ‘The Internet Of The Future’…