During the stone age, it took humans roughly 2,000 years to evolve from using teardrop-shaped flint arrowheads to arrowheads with barbs, which were more useful but were also more difficult to produce. From there, the rate of technological progress only increased. Many of the technologies that we take for granted today were only just barely within the realm of possibility a decade ago. Two decades ago, no one even had the ideas yet. The phone that you carry in your pocket has more power than a supercomputer that would have filled a room in the 1990s. Humans smoked tobacco for thousands of years; it took vaping just a decade to render it obsolete. If technology continues to advance at this pace, the world will be virtually unrecognizable by the end of this decade.
Technological progress moves so quickly that it can sometimes be unsettling for those who remember “the way things used to be.” Whether you’re old or young, though, it can be fun to examine the defining technologies of recent years and to muse about whether those technologies are here to stay or will just end up being flashes in the pan.
So, what’s your take on these defining technologies of the 2010s and 2020s? Do they have what it takes to remain staples of the human experience for years to come, or will they end up becoming the next hoverboards or 3D TVs?
There was a point in the not-too-distant past where any person who loved gadgets and had a bit of disposable income to throw around simply needed to own a drone. Nothing could compare, the marketers said, with the thrill of owning your very own flying machine that you could control with your smartphone or a joystick. Drones could go where you couldn’t, and they could capture stunning high-resolution photos and videos along the way.
The market for consumer drones has cooled off a bit since then. Although a few drone pilots have turned their hobby into lucrative photography businesses, the fact is that there’s only so much you can do with a drone because the places where private drones are allowed to fly are so limited.
For the world of business, though, it’s looking increasingly likely that drone-based deliveries will be a major aspect of logistics in the very near future. Even Amazon has found it difficult to keep up with order volume recently despite spending billions of dollars to build out its own shipping network. All of the other major shipping companies are experiencing similar problems, and one major logistics bottleneck is the “last mile” from the local fulfillment center to the consumer. In the United States, Amazon and UPS have both received permission to begin drone deliveries. If you live in a major metropolitan area, it may only be a matter of time before online orders begin appearing at your door within hours.
For tens of millions of former smokers around the world, vaping is unquestionably the defining technology of the 2010s. An e-cigarette or vape pen delivers nicotine to the body in liquid vapor form, making it possible to “smoke” without tobacco and without tar. For the first decade in which vaping existed, it wasn’t always entirely clear whether it would turn out to be a fad or a permanent consumer fixture. By the end of the 2010s, though, every major tobacco company was selling vaping products and/or harm-reduced tobacco products. At that point, it was very clear that vaping wasn’t going anywhere unless nicotine itself became irrelevant.
Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs)
Blockchain technology was one of the defining technical advancements of the 2010s. By the 2020s, though, whether blockchain tech was going to become a permanent part of the financial landscape was really no longer in question as institutional ownership of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum began to go through the roof. Even electric car maker Tesla got in on the action, entering into a Bitcoin position worth $1.5 billion at the time of purchase.
The main question as we enter the 2020s isn’t whether blockchain technology is here to stay – it’s whether the technology has other interesting uses aside from speculation, spending and storage of wealth. One usage of blockchain tech that really found favor with the public in 2021 was the non-fungible token or NFT. NFT uses blockchain technology to signify ownership of a digital good such as a work of art, a collectible or a piece of music. It is even possible to use an NFT to verify the ownership of a physical good; Nike has given NFTs to buyers of some collectible shoes.
So far in 2021, consumers have spent more than $2 billion on NFTs. While it seems unlikely that the NFT markets will be able to sustain their current level of growth, it does seem plausible that consumer acceptance of the technology will continue. Purchasing NFTs is an easy way for fans to support their favorite content creators, and the technology can also be used to verify the ownership and provenance of collectibles.
Internet of Things (IoT)
The Internet of Things is a term used to describe devices – other than traditional computers and phones – that are connected to the Internet in order to communicate with users or a central hub. This idea is nothing new. Students at Carnegie Mellon University famously connected a Coke machine to the Internet in the 1980s, giving anyone the ability to quickly find out whether the machine had cold soda available.
Basic services like that, in fact, remain the general idea driving the Internet of Things today. Although the IoT may not be something that you think about a great deal, it’s the reason why you can install applications on your TV. It’s also the reason why you can place tags on small items and locate those items quickly if you happen to lose them. Other IoT devices include home thermostats, doorbell cameras, smart speakers, smart lighting systems and more.
The biggest challenge facing the IoT in the future is security. Every device that you connect to the Internet is one more potential target for malware, hacking and data theft. The companies that produce those devices, meanwhile, may not be as vigilant about security as traditional computer and software companies are. Consumer acceptance of IoT devices is likely to remain strong, but there may be some serious security hiccups along the way.