No question about it: it’s been a barn-burner. The rate at which human beings are learning and inventing has been increasing by leaps and bounds over the past couple of decades. Since the turn of the millennium, the entirety of knowledge has been doubling every year. That means that we learned as much about the world over the past twelve months as we did in all of preceding human history. As the futurist Ray Kurzweil noted in 2001: “We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century – it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).”
It’s pretty mind-blowing to consider the future, but it’s almost as mind-blowing to consider the recent past. Our lives have been changing along with the technology at a dramatic pace over the past fifteen years, with new inventions that have come to define our way of life as much as any other in history.
They’re so ubiquitous now that many of us can’t envision our lives without them, but smartphones have only existed for about eight years. Cellular technology isn’t quite as new, but a portable touchscreen computer with seemingly endless functionality is a child of the 21st century. Their impact is hard to overstate, with more or less everyone in the industrialized world using one for a wide range of day-to-day tasks – including many that were unthinkable a mere decade ago.
Like many of us, engineers at Apple were fans of The Simpsons. While developing the modern, functional version of voice recognition software, they often repeated an old gag about the failed 90s-era version of the technology, the Newton: “Beat up Martin,” a bully reminds himself with his first-generation PDA. “Eat up Martha,” the device reads back to him. Eat up Martha no more, Siri users: in the 21st century, accurate and responsive voice recognition is here.
For better or for worse, in this brave new century, you never have to lose track of your old high school friends again. Social life has changed for good with the advent of technology that tracks and disseminates all manner of life experiences to all corners of the globe. Selfies, life milestones, reconnections: with era-defining networking portals like Facebook and Twitter, they’re all a finger swipe away.