20 years a tech journalist: Shift happens at warp speed

Exactly twenty years ago today I started at Computerworld. To say the industry has changed in truly remarkable ways since then is something of an understatement.

Consider:

Digital Equipment Corp, Sun Microsystems and Data General were leading hardware manufactures.

Compaq was the fastest growing PC vendor.

Google didn’t exist.

Mark Zuckerberg was 9 years old.

Amazon.com hadn’t launched yet

There was no e-commerce, Internet Explorer, Firefox or Safari.

Digital glasses were what Geordi La Forge wore in Star Trek

Cookies were things you ate.

Apple stock was less than $38 and the Nasdaq Composite hovered at 795 points.

Comdex was the industry’s biggest trade show.

The dotcom boom was about three years away and the dotcom bust, a little further.

Cloud computing wasn’t even a gleam in the eye for most enterprises.

AOL was how many people logged on to the Net.

The words “malware”, “bots” and “phishing” weren’t in the lexicon.

BYOD was just a typo.

A smart phone was simply the opposite of a dumb phone and tablets were what you took when you were sick.

The 200-MHz Pentium with 8KB cache and 4Gbytes of addressable memory was Intel’s fastest processor.

PCs with 16MB RAM and 320 megabyte hard drives (HDD) were considered high end.

The Y2K crisis was six years away.

Outsourcing and offshoring were things other industries did.

No one knew what H-1B’s were.

Wikipedia wouldn’t launch for another ten years.

There were no social media networks. No Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, LinkedIn.

The Twin Trade towers would stand just seven years and six months more.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security didn’t exist.

Edward Snowden was a grade school student in Wilmington, North Carolina.

CIA analyst Aldrich Ames was convicted of being a Russian spy.

Gas prices were around $1.15 a gallon.

Computerworld was tabloid-sized.

And no one blogged in ’94.

It’s hard to believe that two decades can foster so much change. The post-90s generation does not know of a time before the Internet, social media, smartphones, mobile apps and buying stuff online. Yet most of these things barely existed at the beginning of the new millennium.

With a few exceptions, the behemoths of the technology industry from 20 years ago have either gone, been acquired or are struggling to remain relevant in an industry where change happens at warp speed.

For better or for worse, technology has transformed society.

Technology is no longer something you use at work and leave behind when you are done. It has become part of the fabric of our lives, insinuating itself into everything we do, say or see. It has shrunk the world, transformed business, changed our expectations of privacy and the way we interact with each other. It has put the power of information at virtually everyone’s fingertips, given voice to the oppressed and even fueled revolutions in some part of the world.

It has enabled progress. It has also enabled Big Brother.

Who knows what changes the next 20 years will bring. When this whole Internet of Things starts happening, more computers and more devices will go online then ever before. Some day, it won’t be just these ‘things’ that have an IP address, but each one of us as well.

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