The Austin Chronicle

Top 10 Technology of the Decade

By Jon Lebkowsky, January 7, 2000, Screens

1. Ubiquitous portable telephony. i.e., those damn cellphones -- they're everywhere! Wait, I think mine's ringing --

2. Palmtop computers. Wired little tools that help you keep your life together, palmtop computers didn't quite catch on until a Windows operating system (CE) was developed for 'em. Now I know people who can't remember how to write cursive.

3. Internet Service Providers. A whole new kind of business emerged with the public demand for Internet access in the early Nineties. Now ISP is practically a household acronym, but cable companies and phone companies are pretty hairy competition, especially with their flamin' high-speed services.

4. "The Electronic Frontier." "The Electronic Frontier" was John Perry Barlow's metaphor for the early Internet. Hackers and geeks were the mountain men, and the settlers were certain to ride in. Which, in fact, they did. The Electronic Frontier Foundation was formed to help the settlers understand the frontier, and especially to help the government, prosecutors, attorneys, and enforcers become informed before creating regulations. Some found the frontier metaphor dubious, but it did help coalesce an informed set of Net activists around important issues.

5. Public key cryptography (public access to crypto tools). Before the Internet became such a big deal, there was little or no public use for cryptography. However, on the Net, nothing is really private unless it's encrypted, so the availability of strong cryptography became a privacy issue. Public key cryptography made encryption available (if not especially easy to use) for personal communications, especially e-mail.

6. Advances in data storage and retrieval. Sounds dry, but we're talking about several things here that are really pretty sexy -- like DVD and MP3, for instance. In 1995, Digital Videodiscs (DVDs) appeared, and though it's too early to tell, there's a good chance they'll become the primary medium for video distribution. In the late Nineties, the MP3 audio format and low-cost CD burners made for easy replication of quality audio and scared the hell out of record companies.

7. The World Wide Web. The Internet and the Web are not forms of media but environments in which various media can be channeled and (even more interesting) find synergy. Unlike broadcast channels, the Web is highly interactive, and nobody owns mindshare for very long. Some folks are beginning to argue that the Net can facilitate corporate totalitarianism -- that it's not such a bulletproof anarchy -- and others have suggested, like John Gilmore, that "the Net will interpret censorship as damage, and route around it." The jury's still out, of course, but you and I aren't sheep, so we'll certainly fight to keep the Internet free and accessible, and the barriers of entry low for potential online publishers --won't we?

8. Streaming media. An ingenious method for delivering audio and video over the Internet, "streaming" means that you can activate an audio or video file while it's still downloading. It's sort of a broadcast thing, but there are clever uses. I like audio chats, in which the audience is typing questions for the audio guest to answer. There's already some programming created specifically for the Internet, like the soap operas on Austin-based InterneTV (

But enough about the Internet -- here's a couple of other important technologies that depend so much on computers and were so significant, I had to throw 'em in --

9. The Hubble Space Telescope. The Hubble has provided astronomers with so much new data that they've been redefining the established cosmology and reminded us all how little we really know and how small we really are.

10. Genetically modified organisms. Agrotechs of the Nineties are taking hybridization much further as they successfully graft genetic structures from one species to another, ostensibly to improve our ability to grow, harvest, and distribute foods. Though hybridization is not a new strategy, we're all a little paranoid when we don't know what we're eating. If you really hate broccoli, you don't want to find out that your butternut squash was grown with a few broccoli genes tossed in, right?

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