1/20/2011

Top Technologies of 2010 (Successes + Epic Fails)

Thought it would be fun to revisit some of the year's hottest trends, as well as some of the most notable technology failures and flops.
  1.  Tablet Computers (iPad).  2010 was the year that Americans as a whole were able to finally stop sniggering about the unfortunate name of Apple's latest toy long enough to buy about 100 million of them.
  2. Cloud Computing.  When you think about the progress of external storage devices over the past 20 years ...  floppy disks ->3.5" disks -> zip disks -> external hard drives -> USB drives ...  you come to realize that storing data on little droplets of water suspended in the sky was practically an inevitability.
  3. 4G.  For a long time I thought 4G indicated the ability of satellites to stream data at a rate of 4Gigs/second, which would be impressive indeed.  Silly me - turns out 4G stands for "fourth generation" - in other words, it's basically just a marketing gimmick, people!  And yet, my standing outside the local Apple store shouting this at customers as they enter the store seemed to have had little impact on overall sales of 4G technology.  Sometimes you just have to let go.
  4. Smartphones (iPhone 4, iTouch, Droid).  If someone has asked me 20 years ago if I needed a phone that could play my favorite Frank Sinatra tunes, tell me how long to cook meat, and help me identify birdcalls, I'm betting I would have said no.  How naive I was then.
  5. Smartphone Apps.  2% are actually useful (Google Maps, Documents to Go), 2% are wicked cool (Google Sky, Google Goggles), and the remaining 94% are stupid/unnecessary. Now that I think about it, though, doesn't this 2:2:96 ratio also apply to television, movies, internet content, and Facebook posts?  Could it be I've stumbled onto a reality-defining insight, like Murphy's Law?  I've always wanted a ratio named after me! 
  6. Net Neutrality.  We Americans consider uncensored, unlimited access to the internet to be sacrosanct, rather like our 2nd amendment right to bear arms.  Can you imagine the ISP or government brave enough (or suicidal enough) to attempt to control internet content or access in the U.S.?   
  7. Social Networking.  Social networking is in no way a new technology, but it continued to dominate headlines in 2010 - to the extent that even a movie about social networking (Social Network, the story of the founder of Facebook) managed to dominate theaters and win awards.  By way of perspective, the movie about Nelson Mandela's life (Ivictus) came in 7th. 
  8.  HDTV.  Driven by huge drops in pricing, 98% of people in the U.S. purchased massive, HD-enabled flat screen televisions in 2010, 50% of which currently reside on cheap, pasteboard television cabinets purchased from Walmart. 
  9. Television/Movie Streaming.  State-of-the-art 55" plasma television = $5000.  Netflix subscription = $17/month.  Ability to watch Hotel for Dogs in the comfort of your own living room, without the risk of running into friends at the theater who might ask you what movie you're there to see = priceless.
  10. Ebook Readers.  If you can make that case that it's important to have your music collection available 24/7, then can surely make the case that it's important to have your book collection available 24/7.  Notice that this is predicated on the assumption that you can make the case that it's worth large sums of $$ to be able to listen to Barry Manilow whenever and wherever you may be. 
  11. Augmented Reality.  This is all about apps that take pictures and then overlay them with virtual info, like Google Goggles.  This is, I have to admit, kind of cool.
  12. 3D (television, movies).  I'm expecting a correlating spike in headache-reduction technologies for 2011.  (Or perhaps I'm just bitter because, with only one working eye, the whole 3D thing is never going to happen for me - sigh.)
  13. Hybrid/Electric Cars (Prius, Volt).  Would like to think growing guilt over Global Warming precipitated the rush of people purchasing fuel-efficient vehicles and electric cars.  However, I'm guessing it was the laws allowing folks with Priuses and Volts to use the HOV lanes without paying.
  14. Turbines.  The UK unveiled a huge turbine farm in the middle of an ocean somewhere.  Presumably it doubles as an underwater whale obstacle course.
  15. Data Mining.  As opposed to actual mining, data mining in 2010 became scary efficient.  Admit it's a little offputting that everytime I log into Facebook these days, all the ads are for stair lifts, AARP membership, and donut hole medicaid insurance plans.
  16. Ubiquitous Wi-Fi Access. The day I knew wi-fi had become ubiquitous was the day I saw, proudly posted in the window of my local McDonalds, a notice proclaiming: "Wi-Fi Available Here!"  Thank goodness I have instant access to the internet so I can look up the fat content of what I'm about to eat. 
  17. High-Resolution Airport Scanners.  I understand why people are offended, but ask any woman who's given birth in a large hospital if, really, they have any dignity left to preserve.
Postscript: Seems fitting, as long as we're mentioning technology successes, to list some of 2010's headline technology failures:
  1. Deep water oil rigs.  Don't know about you, but I know I won't be eating shrimp for the next couple of decades.
  2. Chemicals capable of diffusing/dissolving underwater oil spills.  Though ultimately ineffective, for a while there it was a good thing to own Palmolive stock
  3. Terrorist explosives technology.  Notable failures in 2010 included the Times Square car bomb in May and Fedex mail bombs in October.
  4. Aircraft engines. Turns out all it takes to bring them down is a little volcanic ash. (Let's hope the terrorists keep using bombs and don't switch to ash.)
  5. Dow Jones trading software.  At one point in May the Dow dropped over 600 points in five minutes, apparently because of a typo.
  6. Whatever software we use to generate joblessness estimates.  Because, whatever software it is that we use now, it unfailingly predicted lower rates of unemployment than later metrics were able to actually verify.
  7. Mine safety technology.  Seems like every time you turned on the television in 2010, the lead story had to do with trapped miners.  On the plus side, our "rescuing trapped miners" technology must be getting better.

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