The timeline of technological disruptions to society is huge!

They are not all listed here, just the major ones – which have been grouped into two blocks of 70 years. The fist block being for the period 1850-1920 & the second from 1950 -2016.


Picture a world with no electricity, using horse drawn transportation on land & where rail transportation was a “Novelty” with (largely) sail driven transportation by sea. Where an evening’s entertainment was a singalong by a piano or in a local tavern.

All of this changed during a seventy year period that saw the fabric of society transformed to an environment that features electric light, automobiles, steam ships, national rail networks, telegraphic communications, personal photography, moving pictures & household radio receivers….

It’s a totally different landscape in just about every facet of day to day living & it all happened within a single lifetime!

That is an incredible amount of groundbreaking change. Is it any wonder that the satirical publication of the day, “Punch” in 1899 carried, in its look at the coming new century, the joke about a genius who asked “Isn’t there a clerk who can examine patents?” To which a boy replied “Quite unnecessary, Sir. everything that can be invented has been invented!”

1850      The Telegraph – developed in the 1830s and 1840s by Samuel Morse (1791-1872) and other inventors, the telegraph revolutionized long-distance communication by way of its capacity to speed up the communication process which, until this point, was reliant on horse drawn transportation.

1851      Photography was born – whilst the first photograph was clicked by Joseph Nicephore Niepce in the year 1814 & the first practical photography was invented by Louis Daquerre in 1829, it was the year 1851 that witnessed the development of wet plate negatives by Frederick Scoff Archer (followed by the invention of dry plate negatives in 1879). George Eastman invented the flexible film roll in 1889 & the medium started to become widely used as a result.

1852      The rise of the elevator. Elisha Otis introduced the safety elevator, which prevented the fall of the elevator cab if the cable broke. This design is somewhat similar to the type still used today. He demonstrated it at the New York exposition in the Crystal Palace in a dramatic, death-defying presentation in 1854, and the first such passenger elevator was installed at 488 Broadway in New York City, on March 23, 1857. Our 21st Century cities would look very different if it wasn’t for this invention!

1852      The gyroscope is invented by Jean Bernard Léon Foucault (1819-1868), a French physicist. A gyroscope is essentially a spinning wheel set in a movable frame. When the wheel spins, it retains its spatial orientation, and it resists external forces applied to it. Gyroscopes are used in navigation instruments (for ships, planes, and rockets).

1855      The electric motor is first developed. Like many other creations, this one was also a result of many brilliant and inquisitive minds. The foundation of electric motor invention was only laid after battery, magnetic fields from the electric currents and electromagnet made their way into the world.

The first commercially viable electric motor was introduced by Zenobe Gramme in the year 1871. Think of all the things in our day to day that use an electric motor – hairdryers, food mixers, electric shavers, & the myriad industrial machines – winches, cranes, conveyor belts, etc & you start to get some idea as to the impact of this one invention!

1857      Joseph Gayetty invented toilet paper. His new toilet paper was composed of flat sheets. Before Gayetty’s invention, people tore pages out of mail order catalogues – before catalogues were common, leaves were used. Unfortunately, Gayetty’s invention failed. Walter Alcock (of Great Britain) later developed toilet paper on a roll (instead of in flat sheets). Again, the invention failed.

In 1867, Thomas, Edward and Clarence Scott (brothers from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA) were successful at marketing toilet paper that consisted of a small roll of perforated paper. They sold their new toilet paper from a push cart – this was the beginning of the Scott Paper Company.

1859      Storage battery – whilst Alessandro Volta (an Italian physicist) invented the first chemical battery in 1800, it’s commercial applications were limited due to cost & efficiency issues. However, in 1859, the French physicist Gaston Plante (1834-1889) invented a battery made from two lead plates joined by a wire and immersed in a sulfuric acid electrolyte; this was the first storage battery.

1867      The motorcycle arrived! This first motorcycle was a coal-powered, two-cylinder, steam-driven unit that was developed by the American inventor Sylvester Howard Roper. A gas-powered motorcycle was invented by the German inventor Gottlieb Daimler in 1885. His mostly wooden motorcycle had iron-banded wheels with wooden spokes. This bone-crunching vehicle was powered by a single-cylinder engine.

1867      Dynamite is invented by Alfred Bernhard Nobel (1833-1896). He was a Swedish inventor and industrialist who invented many powerful and relatively safe explosives and explosive devices, including the “Nobel patent detonator” (it detonated nitroglycerin using a strong electrical shock instead of heat, 1863), dynamite (1867), blasting gelatin (guncotton plus nitroglycerin, 1875), and almost smokeless blasting powder (1887)

1867      The first typewriter was invented by the American printer and editor Christopher Latham Sholes (Feb. 14, 1819 – Feb. 17, 1890). Sholes’ prototype had the user hit a key (for each letter and number), which struck upward onto a flat plate, producing a carbon impression of the letter or number on the paper. He made the prototype using the key of an old telegraph transmitter. There was no way of spacing the letters, no carriage return, and no shift keys; these features would be added to later models.

1869      Celluloid is first made. This a plastic made from cellulose (it is derived from plants). This very flammable material was invented by the American inventor John Wesley Hyatt (it was invented to be a substitute for the elephant ivory used for billiard balls). Celluloid was one the first plastics invented; it can be damaged by moisture.

1871      Dry cell batteries arrive. This is a an improved voltaic cell with a cylindrical zinc shell (the zinc acts as both the cathode and the container) that is lined with an ammonium chloride (the electrolyte) saturated material (and not a liquid). The dry cell battery was developed by Georges Leclanche of France, who used an electrolyte in the form of a paste.

Edison batteries (also called alkaline batteries) are an improved type of storage battery developed by Thomas Edison. These batteries have an alkaline electrolyte, and not an acid.

1876      Alexander Graham Bell, is the first person to use the telephone (I wonder if he knew how popular it would become)!

1877      Thomas Alva Edison announced his invention of the first phonograph, a device for recording and replaying sound.

1879      The first viable lightbulb is developed by Thomas Edison, who discovered that a carbon filament in an oxygen-free bulb glowed but did not burn up for 40 hours. Edison eventually produced a bulb that could glow for over 1500 hours.

1879      The mechanical cash register was invented (and patented) in 1879 by James Ritty, who started the National Manufacturing Company to sell them.

1880      Birth of the modern education system. The Elementary Education Act 1880 insisted on compulsory attendance from 5 to 10 years of age. For poorer families, ensuring their children attended school proved difficult, as it was more tempting to send them working if the opportunity to earn an extra income was available.

Children under the age of 13, who were employed, were required to have a certificate to show they had reached the educational standard. Employers of these children who weren’t able to show this were penalised. An act brought into force thirteen years later went under the name of the “Elementary Education (School Attendance) Act 1893”, which stated a raised minimum leaving age to 11. This act was later amended in 1899 to raise the school leaving age up to 12 years of age.

1881      The world’s first public electricity supply delivered, when the streets of the Surrey town of Godalming in the UK were lit with electric light. This system was powered from a water wheel on the River Wey, which drove a Siemens alternator that supplied a number of arc lamps within the town.

1882      The first public power station comes online – it was the Edison Electric Light Station, built in London at 57, Holborn Viaduct. This was a project of Thomas Edison that was organized and managed by his partner, Edward Johnson.

1882      The electric iron was invented by Henry W. Seeley. A New York inventor, Seeley patented his “Electric flatiron” on June 6, 1882. His iron weighed almost 15 pounds and took a long time to warm up.

1883      Thomas Alva Edison discovered that electrons will flow from one metal conductor to another through a vacuum . This discovery of conduction became known as the Edison effect. In 1904, John Fleming applied the Edison effect in inventing a two-element electron tube called a diode , and Lee De Forest followed in 1906 with the three-element tube, the triode. These vacuum tubes were the devices that made manipulation of electrical energy possible so it could be amplified and transmitted.

1884      The first fountain pen is made by Lewis E. Waterman (an American inventor and insurance salesman) who developed a relatively leak-proof fountain pen; he patented his new invention in 1884 and revolutionized writing. Before his fountain pen, pen tips had to be tipped into ink after every few words. Waterman put an ink reservoir in the pen above the pen’s metal nib (point). This reservoir would hold enough ink for a few pages of writing.

1885      The automobile hits the road for the first time! Karl Benz develops the first car which is marketed as a “Horseless carriage”

1887      The Gramophone is invented by Emile Berliner, a German immigrant working in Washington D.C., who patented a successful system of sound recording. Berliner was the first inventor to stop recording on cylinders and start recording on flat discs

1888      The very first patented film camera was designed in England by Frenchman Louis Le. He built and patented an earlier 16 lens camera in 1887 at his workshop in Leeds.

1890      The zipper is released to the world by Whitcomb L. Judson, an American engineer from Chicago, Illinois. He called it a “clasp-locker”. In 1893, he exhibited this new invention at the Chicago World’s Fair. He never succeeded in marketing his new device. The zipper was improved by the Swedish-American engineer, Gideon Sundbach, and was named by the B.F. Goodrich company in 1923. Judson died in 1909, before his device became commonly used and well-known.

1891      The escalator was invented by the American inventor Jesse W. Reno. On his “Inclined elevator,” passengers rode on an wedge-shaped supports attached to a conveyor belt at an incline of about 25 degrees. The original elevator had a stationary handrail (which was soon replaced with a moving handrail).

Horizontal steps were added to the escalator by Georg A. Wheeler and Charles D. Seeberger (who bought Wheeler’s patent) in the late 1890’s. The Otis company later bought the patents for the escalator and marketed it worldwide. The word escalator was first used at the Paris Exposition of 1900, when the Otis Company exhibited the moving stairway.

1895      Radio has its first broadcast thanks to Guglielmo Marconi who pioneered the development of the wireless telegraph in 1896 and long-distance radio communication in 1901. Early radio consisted of either radio telegraphy (the transmission of Morse code signals) or radio telephony (voice messages). Both relied on the triode and made rapid advances thanks to armed forces communications during World War I.

Early radio transmitters, telephones, and telegraph used high-voltage sparks to make waves and sound. Vacuum tubes strengthened weak audio signals and allowed these signals to be superimposed on radio waves. In 1918, Edwin Armstrong invented the “super-heterodyne receiver” that could select among radio signals or stations and could receive distant signals.

Although the radio was invented by Nikola Tesla, it was promoted and popularised by Guglielmo Marconi in 1895. The first radio transmission across an ocean (the Atlantic Ocean) occurred on December 12, 1901.

1895      X-rays are discovered by Wilhelm Konrad von Roentgen (1845-1923). Roentgen was a German physicist who described this new form of radiation that allowed him to photograph objects that were hidden behind opaque shields. He even photographed part of his own skeleton. X-rays were soon used as an important diagnostic tool in medicine. Roentgen called these waves “X-radiation” because so little was known about them.

1899      The paper clip was invented in 1899 by a Norwegian patent clerk called Johann Vaaler. His original paper clip was a thin spring-steel wire with triangular or square ends and two “tongues.” Vaaler patented his invention in Germany and later in the USA (1901).

The modern-shaped paper clip was patented in April 27, 1899 by William Middlebrook of Waterbury, Connecticut, USA.

1899      The first vacuum cleaner is invented by John S. Thurman. It was gasoline powered (& called the “Pneumatic carpet renovator”). Thurman had a horse drawn, door-to-door carpet vacuuming service in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, charging $4 per visit (which was a large amount of money at the time).

1901      The assembly line production method rolls out for the first time. Primitive assembly line production was first used in 1901 by Ransome Eli Olds, an early car-maker (he manufactured the Oldsmobile, the first commercially successful American car). Henry Ford (1863-1947) used the first conveyor belt-based assembly-line in his car factory in 1913-14 in Ford’s Highland Park, Michigan plant. This type of production greatly reduced the amount of time taken to put each car together (93 minutes for a Model T) from its parts, reducing production costs.

1903      The first working airplane was, designed, made, and flown by the Wright brothers, Wilbur Wright (1867-1912) and Orville Wright (1871-1948). Their “Wright Flyer” was a fabric-covered biplane with a wooden frame. The power to the two propellers was supplied by a 12-horsepower water-cooled engine. On December 17, 1903, the “Flyer” flew for 12 seconds and for a distance of 120 feet (37 m). The flight took place at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, USA.

1907      Bakelite (also called catalin) is born! It’s a plastic, a dense synthetic polymer that was used to make jewellery, game pieces, engine parts, radio boxes, switches, and many, many other objects. Bakelite was the first industrial thermoset plastic (a material that does not change its shape after being mixed and heated). Bakelite plastic is made from carbolic acid (phenol) and formaldehyde, which are mixed, heated, and then either moulded or extruded into the desired shape.

Bakelite was patented in 1907 by the Belgian-born American chemist Leo Hendrik Baekeland. The Nobel Prize winning German chemist Adolf von Baeyer had experimented with this material in 1872, but did not complete its development or see its potential.

1907      Rocketry is launched onto the world! Robert Hutchings Goddard (an American physicist and inventor) is acknowledged as the father of modern rocketry. In 1907, Goddard proved that a rocket’s thrust can propel it in a vacuum. In 1914, Goddard received two U.S. patents: for liquid-fuelled rockets and for two- to three-stage rockets that use solid fuel. In 1919, Goddard wrote a scientific article, “A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes,” describing a high-altitude rocket; it was published in a Smithsonian report. Goddard’s many inventions were the foundation upon which modern rocketry is based.

After many years of failed attempts and public ridicule, Goddard’s first successful rocket was launched on March 16, 1926 from a relative’s farm in Auburn, Massachusetts. It was a liquid-fuelled 10-ft. rocket that he called Nell. The flight lasted 2 1/2 seconds; the rocket flew a distance of 184 feet and achieved an altitude of 41 feet.

1908      The Geiger counter (sometimes called the Geiger-Muller counter) arrives. It is a device that detects ionizing radioactivity (including gamma rays and X-rays) – it counts the radioactive particle that pass through the device. The German nuclear physicist Hans Wilhelm Geiger developed the device from 1908-12. At that time, Geiger was an assistant to the British physicist Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937). Geiger’s work helped Rutherford discover that radioactive elements can transform into other elements and that atoms have a nucleus]. In 1928, the Geiger counter was improved by the German physicist E. Walther Muller.

1920      Band aids are invented. Bandages for wounds had been around since ancient times, but an easy-to-use dressing with an adhesive was invented by Earle Dickson (a cotton buyer at the Johnson & Johnson company). Dickson perfected the BAND-AID® in 1920, making a small, sterile adhesive bandage for home use. Dickson invented the BAND-AID® for his wife, who had many kitchen accidents and needed an easy-to-use wound dressing. Dickson was rewarded by the Johnson & Johnson company by being made a vice-president of the company.

Looking at all of these inventions you can start to get an idea as to the scope of change that society went through during this seventy year period.

So, now let’s compare that period with the last seventy years to evaluate whether our society is experiencing anything like that of our predecessors.

1950-2016 (Post WWII)

Whilst the 1850’s came out of the industrial revolution (the biggest change to society since the invention of the printing press), the 1950’s came out of WWII (the biggest global conflict of all time).

With the scarcity of resources as a result of the war, combined with a distrust of nations outside our own, “Invention” was not likely to be topmost in the collective psyche. Far more likely was the thinking around survival & consolidation as the world’s political landscape shifted with new alliances & borders.



1950      Micro surgery is developed for inner ear operations. In the early 1960s this medical technique was to involve other medical areas. The first microvascular surgery, using a microscope to aid in the repair of blood vessels, was described by vascular surgeon, Julius H. Jacobson II of the University of Vermont in 1960.

1952      The computer compiler is developed by Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (1906 – 1992) – a US naval officer and mathematician. Her compiler revolutionized computer programming, automatically translating high-level instructions (easier to understand by people) into machine code (the cryptic, native language of the central processing unit). Hopper and a team developed the first user-friendly business programming language, COBOL (COmmon Business-Oriented Language). There is an unconfirmed story that Hopper determined that an error in the early Mark II computer was caused by a moth that was trapped in it; she then coined the term “Computer bug.”

1953      Transistors – although invented in 1947, the first commercial device to use a transistor was the Sonotone 1010 hearing aid, created in 1953. Transistors, despite being so small, have made a big impact on the world – forming the basis for most modern technology.

1953      1953 James Watson and Francis Crick, with the contribution of Rosalind Franklin and others, discover the double helix structure of DNA, the building block of life.

1954      Solar power becomes a reality thanks to Gerald Pearson with his research into lithium-silicon photovoltaic cells. Bell Labs announces the invention of the first practical silicon solar cell.

1955      Microwave ovens arrive. Developed by Raytheon’s Percy Spencer patents a “Radar Range” that cooks with high-frequency radio waves; that same year, the Tappan Stove Co. introduces the first home microwave model.

1955      Polio is finally beaten by Jonas Salk (1914-1995) – a research physician who formulated a vaccine against the devastating disease. Poliomyelitis, also called infantile paralysis, had crippled thousands of children during an epidemic that hit the world during the 1940’s and 1950’s. It is estimated that one of every 5,000 people (mostly children) fell victim to polio. The vaccine was made from killed polio virus. In 1955, after many trials of the new vaccine, the vaccine was made public, and put an end to the polio epidemic.

1956      The computer arrives – although computers were first developed in the late 1930’s they were far too expensive & bulky for serious commercial consideration. The first transistor computer the TX-O (Transistorized Experimental computer) is the first transistorized computer to be demonstrated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

1956      Allen Newell, J. C. Shaw, and Herbert A. Simon pioneered the newly created artificial intelligence field with the Logic Theory Machine, followed by the General Problem Solver in 1957. In 1958, John McCarthy and Marvin Minsky started the MIT Artificial Intelligence lab.

1956      The video tape recorder (VTR) is invented. Designed to record video material on magnetic tape, the first practical video tape recorder, using transverse tape head scanning, was developed by Ampex Corporation.

1956      The first shipping container was invented and patented by Malcolm Mc Lean, not for ships but for trucks – Mc Lean was not an ocean shipper, but was a trucker, he owned the largest trucking fleet in Southern USA and the fifth largest trucking company in all the United States.

1957      The Soviet Union launches the Sputnik satellite. The dawn of the space age has arrived!

1957      Casio releases the world’s first digital watch – the Swiss didn’t see this one coming!

1958      Eight track tapes are created by RCA – although recording tape was invented in the 1930’s The main advantage of the RCA tape cartridge over reel-to-reel machines was convenience. The user is not required to handle unruly tape ends and thread the tape through the machine before use, making the medium of magnetic tape more friendly to everyday users. In addition, since the cartridge carries both supply and take-up reels, the cartridge does not have to be rewound before the tape is removed from the machine and stored.

1958      Jet air travel becomes a reality. The Boeing 707-120 debuts as the world’s first successful commercial jet airliner, ushering in the era of accessible mass air travel. The four-engine plane carries 181 passengers and cruises at 600 mph for up to 5280 miles on a full tank. The first commercial jet flight takes off from New York and lands in Paris.

1959      Integrated circuitry is born. An integrated circuit (IC) or chip is a wafer of material to which impurities have been added (in just the right patterns) so that the entire chip is a circuit composed of many transistors. The chip (usually made of silicon or germanium) makes computational devices, like computers, very small and very inexpensive. IC’s were invented independently by Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce

1959      Virtual reality “Simulation” is developed for the first time by Douglas Engelbart. Rather than limit computers to number crunching, Engelbart envisioned them as tools for digital display.
Military driven through 1960’s as simulators for training pilots, tank drivers, submariners, etc

1960      First oral contraceptive for women is released & is credited with birthing the “Swinging sixties”!

1960      Laser technology is developed by Theodore Maiman, who made the first laser operate on 16 May 1960 at the Hughes Research Laboratory in California, by shining a high-power flash lamp on a ruby rod with silver-coated surfaces.

1960      The first minicomputer (the PDP-1) is released by Digital Equipment Corporation.

1961      First industrial robot, “The Unimate”, the first programmable industrial robot, is installed on a General Motors assembly line in New Jersey. Conceived by George C. Devol Jr. to move and fetch things, the invention gets a lukewarm reception in the United States. Japanese manufacturers love it and, after licensing the design in 1968, go on to dominate the global market for industrial robots.

1961      Kodak releases the Instamatic camera. Its main feature was that the film used by the camera was in a cartridge that simply clicked into place. Previous cameras required the user to insert a roll of film & “wind” it on to the camera’s film spool.


1962      The LED (light-emitting diode) is developed & begins to usher in a new era in lighting


1962      The Compact Cassette is introduced to the world by Philips. Based on the cartridge principle of the eight track system developed by RCA the cassette is reversible so that either side can be played. The format is also much smaller.

1962      Fibre optic cable developed for use in telecommunications. It’s advantage being that it could transmit more data, faster than traditional copper cable.

1962      The first “active” (as in amplifying and retransmitting incoming signals, rather than passively bouncing them back to Earth) communications satellite – Telstar is launched. Telstar makes real a 1945 concept by science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, who envisioned a global communications network based on geosynchronous satellites. Two weeks after Telstar’s debut, President Kennedy holds a press conference in Washington, D.C., that is broadcast live across the Atlantic.

1963      RFID is invented. RFID stands for Radio-Frequency IDentification. The acronym refers to small electronic devices that consist of a small chip and an antenna. The chip typically is capable of carrying 2,000 bytes of data or less.


1964      Plasma television is invented.


1964      UAV (Drones) Used for first time. Widespread use of remotely piloted aircraft begins during the Vietnam War with deployment of 1000 AQM-34 Ryan Firebees which go on to fly more than 34,000 surveillance missions. Their success leads to the eventual development of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles widely used today.


Only with major improvements in computing and electronic controlling systems in the1980s and ’90s were modern-day drones made possible. And it wasn’t until the late ’90s that the Air Force began working on the technical aspects of arming unmanned aircraft with missiles.

1965      The first computer “Mouse” was developed for use in radar control desks by a team led by Rainer Mallebrein at Telefunken Konstanz for the German Bundesanstalt für Flugsicherung as part of their TR 86 process computer system with its SIG 100-86[10]vector graphics terminal.

In 1968 a mouse device named Rollkugel (German for “rolling ball”) was released that had been developed and published by the German company Telefunken.


1967      Christiaan Barnard carries out first human heart transplant.

1967      Jocelyn Bell identifies pulsars (neutron stars).

1967      The first hand held calculator is released by Texas Instruments. Although calculators had been around for almost a decade they were large, cumbersome & expensive. The hand held calculator changed all of that!

1968      Touchscreen technology was launched. A capacitive touch screen was invented by E.A. Johnson at the Royal Radar Establishment, Malvern, UK, with a published paper on touch screen technology for air traffic control in an article published in 1968. As electronic materials advances were made so too the touchscreen evolved.

1969      Dorothy Hodgkin describes the molecular structure of insulin.

1969      The first videocassette prototype is demonstrated by Sony.

1969      US Apollo astronauts walk on the moon

1969      ARPANET is created by the US Department of Defenses Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) as a means for military installations to communicate with each other & still be able to function independently should any installation be destroyed. Commonly thought of as the predecessor to the Internet.

1970      Computerised Tomography (CT scan) is developed enabling medical practitioners to look at soft tissues in the body without invasion surgery.

1970,     The home video cassette format is developed by Philips – it was specially made for a TV station in 1970 and available on the consumer market in 1972. Philips named this format “Video Cassette Recording” (although it is also referred to as “N1500”, after the first recorder’s model number)

VCR started gaining mass market traction in 1975. Six major firms were involved in the development of the VCR: RCAJVCAMPEXMatsushita Electric / Panasonic, Sony, and Toshiba. Of these, the big winners in the growth of this industry were Japanese companies Matsushita Electric / Panasonic, JVC, and Sony, which developed more technically advanced machines with more accurate electronic timers and greater tape duration. The VCR started to become a mass market consumer product; by 1979 there were three competing technical standards using mutually incompatible tape cassettes. Ultimately, the VHS system won the war – not because it was technically superior (it wasn’t) but because it had more variety in its range of recorded programming to view. One of the first instances of “Content” winning over “Format”

1971      Gilbert Hyatt and Intel make the first commercial computer microprocessor

1971      First email program is developed by Ray Tomlinson. Tomlinson was a pioneering American computer programmer who implemented the first email program on the ARPANET system, the precursor to the Internet. His was the first system able to send mail between users on different hosts connected to ARPANET. The spammers of the world salute you!

1972      The CAT scanner is invented  by Geoffrey Hounsfield (Britain) This device uses x-ray images from a number of angles to build up a 3D image of the inside of the body.

1973      The Ethernet is created by Bob Metcalfe of the Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center). It enabled data to be shared back & forth between interconnected advanced computer workstations. Without Ethernet there would be no internet & computer networks would still rely on large (& expensive) computer mainframes.


These days, sharing information is most often done over an Ethernet (usually referred to as a LAN – Local Area Network); from the smallest office to the largest corporation, from the single schoolroom to the largest university campus, Ethernet is clearly the networking technology of choice.


1975      Discovery of endorphins – natural pain killers in the brain

1975      Cesar Milstein and co-workers develop monoclonal antibodies, the ‘magic bullets’ that can seek out specific antigens and therefore disease-causing organisms.

1975      The Personal Computer (PC) era is born. The first PCs came as kits – The MITS Altair 8800, followed by the IMSAI 8080, (an Altair clone). Both used the Intel 8080 CPU. Bill Gates and Paul Allen wrote a BASIC compiler for the Altair and formed Micro-soft.

1976      Lithium batteries are developed. Without this little development the evolution of hand held electronic devices would not have happened – as the power sources required would have been far larger than the devices themselves.


1977      Apple introduces the Apple II, a colour computer with expansion slots and floppy drive support. Digital Research released CP/M, the 8-bit operating system that provided the template for MS-DOS.


1978      TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) system is established. TCP/IP is a set of rules (protocols) governing communications among all computers on the Internet. More specifically, TCP/IP dictates how information should be packaged (turned into bundles of information called packets), sent, and received, as well as how to get to its destination. TCP/IP was developed in 1978 and driven by Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf.


The TCP/IP protocol has two big advantages in comparison with earlier network protocols:

It is reliable & it’s easily expandable. The modern internet would not be possible without this protocol


1978      The Bionic ear is invented by Graeme Clark in Melbourne, Australia. Since then the merging of digital technologies & medicine has accelerated – leading to the development of electronic retinas, artificial pancreas, hearts, etc

1979      The mobile (cellular) phone is born! The first automatic analog cellular phone was made in the 1960’s. Commercial models were introduced in Japan by NTT on December 3, 1979. They were introduced in Scandinavia in 1981, in Chicago, USA, on October 13, 1983 (by Motorola), and in Europe in the late 1980’s.

1980      The Sony Walkman is released. Built around the compact cassette format this device revolutionised the way people listened to music as it allowed them to carry & play their favourite music anywhere.


1980      Home computing takes off with the introduction of the Commodore $299 VIC-20. Sinclair tried to one-up them with a $199 kit computer, the ZX80, which was quite popular in Britain. Estimates are that there were one million personal computers in the US in 1980 (compared to 310 million in 2013).


1981      IBM launches their PC on August 12. This computer ran a 16-bit CPU on an 8-bit bus (the Intel 8088), had five expansion slots, included at least 16 KB of RAM, and had two full-height 5.25″ drive bays.


Microsoft got IBM to agree that PC-DOS (the OS that IBM had as an option for its PCs) would not be an IBM exclusive. This paved the way for the clone industry, which in the end marginalized the influence of Big Blue but spawned the birth of the PC industry as we know it today.


1981      The laptop is created. The first mass-produced microprocessor-based portable computer was the Osborne 1 in 1981, which used the CP/M operating system. Although it was large and heavy compared to today’s laptops, with a tiny 5″ CRT monitor, it had a near-revolutionary impact on business, as professionals were able to take their computer and data with them for the first time.

1982      The CD arrives. The first commercial compact disc was produced on 17 August 1982. It was a recording from 1979 of Claudio Arrau performing Chopin waltzes (Philips 400 025-2). Arrau was invited to the Langenhagen plant to press the start button. The first popular music CD produced at the new factory was The Visitors (1981) by ABBA.

1984      The Apple Macintosh (Mac) is born, featuring a mouse & a Graphic User Interface (GUI) – as opposed to the text based interface of IBM & MS-DOS.

1984      3D printing was invented in 1984 by Chuck Hull of 3D Systems Corporation. Today we can enjoy 3D printed buildings, cars, firearms, medical prosthesis, cloths, organs and body parts, amongst others. Get ready because you might become a designer quicker than you think!

1985      Microsoft introduces its Windows OS in response to Apple’s Mac.

1986      Nanotechnology comes of age. The concepts that seeded nanotechnology were first discussed in 1959 by renowned physicist Richard Feynman in his talk, “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom”, in which he described the possibility of synthesis via direct manipulation of atoms.

1987      Digital hearing aids are released. The first commercial digital hearing aid was created by the Nicolet Corporation. The hearing aid contained a body-worn processor that had a hardwire connection with an ear mounted transducer. While the Nicolet Corporation’s hearing aid was not publicly successful and the company shortly folded, it was able to start a competition between companies to create more effective hearing aids. Two years later, in 1989, the behind-the-ear (BTE) digital hearing aid was launched.

1988      The first Internet worm infected about 6,000 Unix computers & birthed the concept of the computer “Virus” which, itself, birthed a whole new “Anti Virus” security industry.

1989      MP3 digital recording format is developed. This quickly becomes the default standard for all digital sound recording.

1990      Hubble space telescope launched, allowing scientists to see our universe in far more detail (without the barrier of the Earth’s atmosphere to look through).

1990      The Human Genome project starts to map all the genes in the human body – 40,000 of them. Humans share their gene make-up with much of the natural world, leading scientists to joke that because of the genes we share, human beings are 60 per cent banana!

1991      The Internet arrives with a whimper. On 6 August 1991, the World Wide Web went live to the world. There was no fanfare in the global press. In fact, most people around the world didn’t even know what the Internet was.

Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. His first version of the Web was a program named “Enquire,” short for “Enquire Within Upon Everything”. At the time, Berners-Lee was working at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory located in Geneva, Switzerland. He invented the system as a way of sharing scientific data (and other information) around the world, using the Internet, a world-wide network of computers, and hypertext documents. He wrote the language HTML (HyperText Mark-up Language), the basic language for the Web, and devised URL’s (universal resource locators) to designate the location of each web page. HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol) was his set of rules for linking to pages on the Web.

Growth of the internet was (and still is) phenomenal, and has changed the world, making information more accessible than ever before in the history of mankind.

1992      SMS messaging (Short Message System) was used for the first time when Neil Papworth, a 22-year-old test engineer for Sema Group in the UK (now Airwide Solutions), used a personal computer to send the text message “Merry Christmas” via the Vodafone network to the phone of Richard Jarvis who was at a party in Newbury.

Globally, almost 23 billion messages are sent per day, or almost 16 million messages per minute. (Portio Research).

1994      Blogging surfaces for the first time. The first blog site was Links.net, created by Justin Hall, while he was a Swarthmore College student in 1994. At that time they weren’t called blogs, and he just referred to it as his personal homepage. It wasn’t until 1997 that the term “weblog” was coined.

Blogs feature User-generated content (UGC) that is “any form of content such as blogs, wikis, discussion forums, posts, chats, tweets, podcasts, digital images, video, audio files, advertisements and other forms of media that was created by users of an online system or service (often made available via social media websites)”.

1995      DVD (“digital versatile disc” or “digital video disc”) is a digital optical disc storage format invented and co-developed by Philips, Sony, Toshiba, and Panasonic. A single disc could store over 4GB of data (compared to 600MB on a CD).

1996      ‘Dolly’ the sheep is born in Scotland. She was produced by cloning a single mammary cell.

1997      Social media platforms started to surface – SixDegrees.com being the frontrunner. In 2002, social networking hit really its stride with the launch of Friendster. Then came Myspace, followed in 2004 by Facebook.

1999      The first MP3 player is released by Saehan Information Systems, which sold its “MPMan” player in Asia in spring 1998. In mid-1998, the South Korean company licensed the players for North American distribution to Eiger Labs, which rebranded them as the EigerMan F10 and F20.

As digital technology became more widely accepted the MP3 player quickly eclipsed the dominance of the Sony Walkman.

1998      Launch of the Google search engine. Although there were search engines before Google (the first being “Archie” in 1990, then Alta Vista & Yahoo! to name but a few), it quickly became the dominant player & now represents more than 90% of all internet searches.

1999      Bluetooth technology developed by a group of engineers at Ericsson (a Swedish company), the original group of Promoter companies—Ericsson, Intel, Nokia, Toshiba and IBM—came together to form the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG)

Bluetooth is a wireless technology standard for exchanging data over short distances (using short-wavelength UHF radio waves in the ISM band from 2.4 to 2.485 GHz) from fixed and mobile devices, and building personal area networks (PANs).

2000      GPS becomes publicly available. Until May 2, 2000, the United States intentionally degraded GPS signals available to the public for national security reasons.

Originally developed by the Department of Defense to aid the military, the satellite-based system provides location and time data to users. In announcing the discontinuation of the feature that deliberately degraded the signal, the White House said in a statement that civilian users of GPS would be able to pinpoint locations up to 10 times more accurately than before. GPS or the Global Positioning System was originally developed by the U.S. Department of Defense (D.O.D) and Dr. Ivan Getting.

2001      The Smartwatch. IBM releases its “Watchpad”. However, it’s another decade before materials allow the development of more practical devices such as the “Pebble” & Apple’s “Iwatch”

2001      The robotic artificial heart, known as the abioCor was the size of a softball, was self-contained, and worked on a battery pack that the user could strap to his waist. It was made of titanium and plastic and unlike previous artificial organs, had no wires or connections to external units.

2001      The Ipod is released by Apple (& birth of Itunes). MP3 players finally hit the mainstream & sales explode. The way music is distributed changed forever & heralded the demise of the old recording industry & record shops.


2003      Skype launched to take advantage of VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) – allowing people to “Phone” anyone with a Skype account, anywhere in the world, for free. Later the company introduced the ability to call traditional landlines & mobiles for a small fee (a fraction of the cost of traditional phone calls). The telephony market is shaken to its core as traditional Telcos revenues plummet.

2003      Android arrives. Four technology experts joined forces to establish Android Inc. of Palo Alto, CA: (Andy Rubin, Rich Miner, Nick Sears and Chris White). The four worked to create an operating system for mobile devices which could be aware of both a user’s location and their personal preferences. At first, the Android team wanted to implement the system into digital camera devices, creating cameras which could access computer services. However, the company recognised that there would be low demand for such a computer camera, so the development activities switched to a focus on mobile (cellular) phones.

In August 2005, Android very quietly became the property of Google who have developed the OS into the dominant platform for mobile phones & mobile computing devices.

2005      Youtube applies video to the social media concept. Headquartered in San Bruno, California, United States. The service was created by three former PayPal employees in February 2005. In November 2006, it was bought by Google for US$1.65 billion. In 2012 more than 4 billion videos are watched on Youtube per day!

2005      GPS became commercially viable and was embedded into phone devices from here on. It has been a blessing for students and job seekers who move cities or countries for career prospects.

2006      SanDisk Micro SD format is released allowing external storage for hand held devices such as cameras & mobile phones to be increased dramatically.


2006      Crowdfunding – a way of raising finance by asking a large number of people each for a small amount of money – first appeared through the website “Sellaband”, which started as a music-focused platform, & initially controlled the crowdfunding market. Following ArtistShare, more crowdfunding sites started to appear on the web such as IndieGoGo (2008), Kickstarter (2009), and Microventures (2010).


2007      The iPhone is released, smartphones become simple & stylish & the industry shifts into high gear. Although other mobile phone manufacturers (such as Nokia & Sony) had smartphones on the market long before Apple, none had captured what users really wanted until the Iphone came along.


2009      Twitter revolutionises the social media space with its 160 character messaging platform. The platform facilitates the phrase “News travels fast” with members able to send messages to a global audience in seconds – at zero cost.

2010      The Ipad is released &, once again, Apple brings to the forefront a technology (Tablet computers or “Slates”) that had been developed years earlier by companies such as Toshiba & Motion computing.

Tablets become the next new thing & within 2 years are everywhere.

2014      Printable, bendable battery. Imprint Energy overcame the limitations of available battery technologies by using a zinc-polymer battery, enabling a new generation of power units that could be used in medical devices, wearable sensors and on-body electronics.

2014      See through solar panels (windows) using Quantum dots – nanocrystals made of a semiconductor – were embedded in a transparent polymer in order to capture the sun’s energy and harvest it as power.

2015      Artificial pancreas – an insulin pump that automatically adjusts the delivery of insulin based on its sensor, which measures blood-sugar levels every five minutes. This will help those with Type 1 diabetes  to spend less time managing their disease and more time enjoying life.



2015      Nano technologies start to result in real world applications such as; brain implants & contact lenses with the ability to communicate through smartphones. Delivery of cellular antibiotics direct to infected cells.

2015      Reuseable space rockets featuring onboard software which allows them to use flaps and thrusters which slow their rockets and allow them to be manipulated precisely as they return toward Earth. That they can be refueled and flown many times, resulting in spaceflight being much less costly and may become far more accessible to human passengers.

2015      Driverless cars which can navigate specific routes and traffic

What society is now experiencing is the “Multiplier” effect. The late 19th & early 20th Century saw massive shifts in all major areas of society which became building blocks for much of the innovations delivered in the late 20th & early 21st Centuries. Whereas It took the lightbulb 80 years from conception to reliable use – these days that timeframe has been condensed to less than 5. What will the multiplier effect of that be? (eg, inventions that lead to other inventions)

Other examples include;

  • The internal combustion engine developed in the late 1800’s continues in use to this day – but has been highly fine tuned & developed.
  • Electricity has enabled all sorts of appliances to be developed which “Piggy back” on the original invention.
  • Aeroplanes bear no resemblance to their earlier counterparts – but still employ the basic principle of flight mastered by the Wright Brothers.

Whilst the changes in the 19th Century were dramatic, their rollout & impacts were felt over a longer period. The last 70 years has seen massive changes roll out over ever decreasing time periods. For example, the records used as the basis for Phonographs/Gramophones were in widespread use for over 80 years, whereas the CD had a lifespan of only 25 years.

It is this “Compression” of timeframes that makes the 21st Century advances seem more dramatic & of greater impact.

What’s next??

The future holds all sorts of wonders for us – but it is likely to look nothing like what we may think as the next major innovations may well render useless all that have come before them!

Here are few to keep an eye out for:

  • VR – Virtual Reality devices. Most notably headsets. Occulus Rift, a leader in the field, was recently acquired by FB & Mark Zuckerberg is well known for picking future trends.
  • Nano technology – the combining of technology with biology is likely to bring about many revolutionary changes to the way we view health & wellbeing.
  • Wearables – Smart watches, earbuds that pair with your smartphone to translate languages, give you directions or provide information. Thinking teeth. Scientists at Princeton and Tufts are working on a superthin tooth sensor (a kind of temporary tattoo) that sends an alert when it detects bacteria associated with plaque buildup, cavities or infection. It could also notify your dentist, adding an extra layer of social pressure to make an appointment!
  • Software (Apps) – Think of Uber, AirBnB – how else will these types of apps impact on day to day life?
  • Electric clothing – Physicists at Wake Forest University have developed a fabric that doubles as a spare outlet. When used to line your shirt — or even your pillowcase or office chair — it converts subtle differences in temperature across the span of the clothing (say, from your cuff to your armpit) into electricity. And because the different parts of your shirt can vary by about 10 degrees, you could power up your MP3 player just by sitting still. According to the fabric’s creator, David Carroll, a cellphone case lined with the material could boost the phone’s battery charge by 10 to 15 percent over eight hours, using the heat absorbed from your trouser pocket!
  • Fire fighting – You need a lot of water to put out a sizable blaze, and the chemicals used in fire extinguishers can be toxic (halons, the most effective chemical fire suppressant, create holes in the ozone layer). A hand-held wand has been developed that snuffs out fires, without chemicals. It works through an electric field which destabilises the flame’s underlying structure rather than blanketing the fire to smother it.

In the Western, developed, world we have experienced what can happen when the health & education standards of the population are improved – literacy levels for those populations have risen drastically in the last couple of centuries. While only 12% of the people in developed countries could read and write in 1820, today 99.2% are literate.

Life expectancy in developed nations hovers between 75-85 years – depending on sex & location.

Our challenge now is to extend these sorts of results to the poorest countries in the world, where basic education is most likely to be a binding constraint for development. Large segments of the population are illiterate. In Niger, for example, the literacy rate of the youth (15-24 years) is only 36.5%.

Life expectancy is, likewise, far lower at 40-55 years depending on sex & location.

As technology continues to develop we can expect our ability to be able to “Globalize” its positive impacts to increase with the cost of its deployment dropping proportionately. If we are able to overcome political & societal barriers to this deployment, imagine what sort of positive impact this would have on our global society – and on our capacity to reach even greater heights of achievement!


Dennis is a “Digital Nomad” with an MBA in Marketing Management & has been involved in the online environment for over 15 years. He helps local businesses develop sustainable online marketing programs by applying a strategic focus to laser target what a business needs to be doing & when. He can be contacted at www.communicationcommando.com

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