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Retro Geek Chic, Cool Tech Du Jour: 1998 vs. Now

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The late '90s was groundbreaking time for technology. But my, how far tech has come.

Geek Chic from the '90s

The velocity of change is exponentially increasing, as a 10-year look back makes crystal clear. In researching the late '90s for CIO.com’s new slideshow on hot tech from a decade ago, what is striking is how much tech creativity was going on at the time. Of course, there’s also a cringe factor…like memories of waiting for dial-up or what passed for cool then.

We couldn’t include everything in the slideshow of course, so here are a few more thoughts on 1998 specifically:

  • A new “file-squishing technology,” MP3 technology, was arguably the fastest growing phenomenon of the time. It enabled  people to transfer music from a CD, record or tape; compress the sound into a digital file; and then ship the file over the Internet for others to download, uncompress and then listen to the music. Music-lovers rejoiced in 1998 when the first MP3 players debuted. Record execs and plenty of musicians, however, saw the MP3 player primarily as a facilitator of music piracy, and soon one of the first MP3 players, the Diamond Rio, faced a slew of legal issues.
  • The Palm Pilot was the king of PDAs, but the BlackBerry 850 Wireless Handheld debuted, bringing new ease to e-mail, wireless data networks, the handheld, the QWERTY keyboard, and giving corporate America insight into the possibilities of wireless communications.
  • Businesses and tech analysts were debating whether upgrading to Windows 98 was worth the cost. (Sound familiar?)
  • In the day before “google” was a verb, Yahoo!, Excite, Lycos. and Infoseek stocks skyrocketed. And the search engine that searched other search engines, Dogpile was a favorite of many Web surfers. Then in late 1998, Stanford students Larry Page and Sergey Brin co-founded Google. The new search engine was incorporated as a privately held company on September 7 that year. And you know what came after that.

It’s striking how many important tech events occurred around 1998, and ten years later school, business and social life has been transformed to include technology as an integral part of everday life. 

What strikes you about the differences between then and now?


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