Technology through the years

The technology I fell in love with pre-2000 is very different in form and function to the products and services I use today, suggesting that our relationship with technology has no place for fidelity.

This post is a trip down memory lane, exploring how technology has enhanced (and at times dominated) my life between 1997 and 2012 in areas such as music, sports, socialising and day-to-day lifestyle.


Then and Now
1997: Winamp, Shoutcast, mIRC
2012: iPhone, Bose QC3, Sonos, Spotify & ReadyNAS

THEN  In 1997, the technology landscape looked very different than it does today. The music industry hadn’t embraced the threats or opportunities presented by consumer adoption of the Internet and piracy was becoming widespread. The web was also largely unpoliced and companies saw technological limitations such as bandwidth as barriers to larger-scale digital content theft, for example movies and software.

My geeky side wants to tell you that I had a 64k leased line installed in my parents’ house when I was 17, a Linux server running on my Gateway 2000 Pentium 75MHz PC and had collected over 50,000 MP3 files over my Global Internet dialup connection before 2000.  My music player of choice at this time was Winamp with its myriad of plug-ins and utilities.

By 1998, I had also written a popular file sharing script for mIRC (an Internet Relay Chat client) and was channel operator for one of the Undernet’s busier channels.  I also ran a Shoutcast radio station with friends called ‘Rock Beat Radio’ and operated a premium rate Nokia ringtone service.  I must admit, I got a real buzz out of the social and technical elements of IRC and met some great people using the platform. I was enamoured by the potential of the technology and the file sharing element was just a part of that.

Back then, I didn’t really think about the implications of sharing music with others on the IRC networks and didn’t really see any harm in it. Being older and wiser (I’ll be 30 this year), I now get great pleasure from my Spotify subscription and iTunes Match account, which lets me give something back for the music I downloaded in my youth. I wouldn’t consider downloading digital content from less than legitimate sites these days as it just doesn’t benefit anybody.

I believe the shift in my thinking was due to the music industry’s willingness to work with technology instead of against it. Convenience is key, and I’d much rather spend my time doing things I enjoy than trawling the Internet trying to download a movie interspersed with cinema-goer’s heads or tracks recorded from the radio.

NOW  So what about now? I have spent a while trying to get the perfect music technology stack and feel I have now found an approach that really works for me.  It currently consists of my iPhone 4S, Bose Lifestyle, Bose QuietComfort 3, Sonos Play 5 and NetGear ReadyNAS from a hardware perspective and iTunes Match and Spotify from a software perspective.

I also love (I’m here) for discovering new music and TuneIn Radio app for iPhone for my daily dose of SkyFM Smoothjazz!


Then and Now
1997: IRC, FaceParty
2012: Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, Pinterest

THEN So I’ve already disclosed my secret love for IRC. It had the potential to open doors to so many opportunities. In my late teens, I started working with beta releases of emerging developer tools such as the Microsoft .NET Framework and began creating web projects. It was around about this time I met a Dutch entrapeneur over IRC who was intersted in working with me.  He came to visit me at my parents’ house in Scotland and we worked on a few projects together, including one for Greenpeace and another for Euro 2000 merchandise.

I’m not sure he expected to be picked up from the airport in my gran’s 1990 Ford Fiesta (by my Gran!) but that was all part of the fun. I also worked with several other interesting people and eventually started up my web hosting service and IRC mirror for Newnet, which the only Scottish server in operation at the time and ran off my 64k leased line.

NOW My current social networking stack is the obligatory Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare and Twitter. My favourite new app at the moment is Pinterest, allowing to share stacks of products, ideas or concepts with others and discover new things outwith your own social circle. I’m also loving Gifture and Instagram, both photograph sharing apps for iPhone.

Additionally, and randomly, I met my other half on Twitter so this technology has definitely had a positive impact on my real life.


Then and Now
1997: SMS, 56.6k, Global Internet, Freeserve
2012: Fibre, BE, unbundled exchanges, 4G

THEN Infrastrucure improvements in the UK have paved the way for the majority of online tech covered in this post. I lived in Texas between 1999 and 2001 and, upon moving back to the UK, wished for just a fraction of the bandwidth I had over there.  I went from having 28.8k dialup from Global Internet back in 1996, to a 56k U.S. Robotics modem in 1998 and onto a 64k BT leased line (there is a story here, please don’t ask) in 2001.  Only with the explosion of broadband did things really start to happen on the technology landscape.  The increased bandwidth and ‘always-on’ connection would change the face of the Internet forever.

From a mobile data perspective, we still have some way to go. It is widely thought that something needs to be done at network level to accommodate the growing number of smart phone users and their bandwidth rich applications. 4G upgrades are the answer, providing more bandwidth and higher speeds to mobile users. The UK is lagging behind a little at the moment, but Everything Everywhere (Orange/T-Mobile) are putting pressure on Ofcom to push this forward as quickly as possible.

NOW Prior to 2008, I would change my ISP on an annual basis, mainly due to frustrations with the service or unfair usage policies. Since switching to BE Broadband and configuring my Cisco 877W to work with their service (read this article for details), I have experienced an extremely consistent level of service and feel satisfied that the company is commited to providing a quality service.  Their brand also sits well with technology lovers thanks to their IRC support and user group and the company offers land lines and line bonding too.


Then and Now
1997: Tamagotchi, Sony Aibo, Tab Clear,
2012: Neato XV-15, OneLessDesk, Jura Impressa Z7

THEN Back in the 1990s, it was pretty much all about the Tab Clear (OK, not strictly speaking technology but it was amazing stuff) and Soda Stream.  Leather pouches were the ‘must have’ accessory for your Philips C12 mobile phone (on BT Cellnet) and Sony Aibo (RIP) robotic dogs were starting to appear on the market towards the second half of the decade.  The most memorable tech toy of the 90s for me was, without a doubt, Tamagotchi.

NOW My top home tech items in 2012 include the Neato Robotics XV-15 robotic vaccum, One Less Desk designer computer desk by Heckler Design and Jura Impressa Z7 bean to cup coffee machine.  The only case for my iPhone 4S is the Element Case Vapor Pro, which is a phenomental piece of engineering and worth every penny.

Getting the TV out of the corner and onto the wall is another reflection on how far we’ve come in the last 15 years.  My brand of choice is definitely Samsung, namely this unit, a 55″ D8000 Series 8 SMART 3D Full HD LED TV.  It’s a beautiful TV with amazing picture quality and a super-thin profile and bezel.


Then and Now
1988 – 97: Gateway 2000, ZX Spectrum
2012: Lenovo X220, iPad

THEN My first venture into the world of personal computing was with a Sinclair ZX Spectrum. The minute I wrote my first program to draw coloured squares across the screen, I couldn’t stop. I also loved games like Frogger, Horace goes Skiing and the Dizzy series, created by CodeMasters. Towards my late teens, I’d custom build PCs for myself and for friends and family. I don’t do this so much these days  as I’m focused on building software instead.  It’s also difficult to build a laptop that looks as good as the Lenovo X220.

NOW As a developer, I often struggled to find a laptop to rival the power of a desktop machine. I think the Lenovo ThinkPad X220 packwith an an i7 processor and Crucial Sata-III SSD is the best ‘all-rounder’ I’ve tested so far, taking into account portability and performance. It is lightweight, has an amazing battery and generally packs the punch of my desktop machine in a miniature chassis. The UltraBase converts it into a dual-monitor development workstation. Although I don’t currently own a tablet, my choice would be an Apple iPad, purely due to the app eco-system available through the App Store and reach/adoption rates.  When it comes to wearable technology, you may wish to sample the wonderful Vuzix VR glasses (if you haven’t tried them, get a pair – they’re amazing!)


Then and Now
1997: Sony Walkman/Discman, MiniDiscs
2012: Nike+, iPhone, Sennheiser PMX680i

THEN The Sony Walkman and bog standard earphones were the defaqto standard in the 1990s.  The CD walkman didn’t work too well with runners though.

NOW These days, Nike+ is the best fitness app for runners and, if you run the iPhone version, can entertain you during your workouts and even give yourself a boost with a power-song if you need a little push. With a fantastic XML API (application programming interface), you can feed the data straight into your site or service – check my running log out here – I love stats.  I also love Sennheiser PMX 680i headphones for running and build quality.  Garmin also make a great line of GPS watches, but I retired my ForeRunner 305 in 2010 in favour of the Nike+ ecosystem.

In Summary

Then and Now
1997: So last century
2012: Totally happening

So that was my round up of technology I have loved, and some I have lost, between the 1990s and today.  I hope this article proves that, as times and trends change, technology is no place for fidelity!

To wrap up, here’s a photo of me in 1998 (16) followed by one taken this year (29).

Check back for my next instalment in 2025 when I’ll be looking decidedly more haggard!

Written as an entry for Be Broadband – Tech I love competition

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