As a millennial born in the late 80s, with a 90s childhood, I had a front-row seat to the incremental stages of technology shaping and changing our lives. For older generations as well, but I think it rings especially louder for my generation, because we’re only maybe a decade apart from Generation Z that has been born smack-dab in the middle of these technological disruptions.
Boomers can say “I remember when phones were rotary, and TVs were black and white!”.
But millennials grew up in a really fascinating time where we had pagers in middle school, and cellphones by graduation. These changes just seemed so rapid, and witnessing them in our childhood really gave us a unique perspective on society’s transition into a more technological state. In this article, I’m going to wax poetic on some of these incredible changes we witnessed.
Instant information at our fingertips
This probably seems obvious, but the gravity of it is often lost in discussion. In the early 90s, we had home computers, and some rudimentary form of internet. Microsoft launched Microsoft Encarta in 1993. If you’re Gen-Z, imagine Wikipedia sold on a CD-ROM. It was academia-focused, with limited multimedia. You could watch a really pixelated clip of the moon landing, or MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech, because CD-ROMs only held like ~700MB per disc.
But we still had to hit the books for certain subjects, we still had to browse the library for more in-depth research. Today, we can just say “Hey Siri, what’s the distance of Earth from Pluto?” to our phones for an instant answer. Of course that doesn’t mean voice assistance has eliminated academia, there are still a lot of highly complex questions that Google, Cortana, and Siri can’t answer.
Advances in medtech
Our parents used to tell us, “Don’t sit so close to the TV, or you’ll go blind!”. This actually hasn’t been a valid concern since the 1960s, and came from a time when certain brands of CRT televisions actually were emitting harmful levels of radiation.
So we played Nintendo and sat close to the TV, and none of us went blind for it. But something else happened – digital screens began to replace everything. So new concerns began to raise, not necessarily as exaggerated as outright blindness, but still concerns related to screentime and eye issues.
So it might be funny when an elderly person says too much Facebook will make you go blind, but there is actually evidence for more ‘minor’ concerns. Eyestrain, migraines, and the harmful effects of blue lights, which can exacerbate existing eye problems in people.
These concerns are taken seriously in the medtech industry, where products like migraine glasses from Axon Optics are developed to address them. So even though our screentime has shot through the roof, it’s good that we’ve taken proactive measures to address instances where technology can impact our ocular wellness.
Virtual and augmented reality
I remember my first taste of “virtual reality” as a kid. It was this:
With incredible, mind-blowing 8-bit graphics that in no way resembled the box art, this was my first taste of the “virtual future”. It was extremely disappointing, and I think Gen Z got a taste of that disappointment, albeit upgraded, when modern virtual reality headsets hit the markets .
But the thing is that virtual reality has too many expectations from gamers, and it’s actually been much better used in professional training. Surgeons, flight pilots, employee onboarding. These are much better case uses for virtual reality than the science fiction future of gaming we envisioned.
We’re still so far away from a VR future like in Ready Player One, but outside of gaming, virtual reality is actually proving incredibly useful and transformative in skill training for a variety of professions.
I can think of so many more examples of transformative technologies we’ve witnessed, both incremental and disruptive, but it comes dangerously close to simply waxing on about 90s nostalgia and the fascinating changes we’ve seen.
Even more important I think are the future changes to come, because ‘change’ really is the only constant. It will be truly amazing to see what technologies we continue to develop over the next few decades, and at some point, you have to laugh at the very real notion that in ~100 years, teenagers will read about us like we were some kind of stone age.