February 23, 2009, 10:02 AM — Today life without a cell phone, a laptop or an Internet connection seems unthinkable. Tech has infiltrated daily life in so many ways that it's hard to remember entire generations found ways to reach others, stay up-to-date, and do their jobs without the technology innovations we take for granted.
PBS Nightly Business News took a close look at tech innovations and innovations from other fields. To celebrate its 30th year on television, the news show partnered with Knowledge@Wharton to select the top 30 innovations in the past 30 years -- innovations that may seem standard now, but whose creation changed the way business is conducted, directly affected quality of life, broke new ground, and more.
Here are seven technology innovations from that list.
RFID and applications (#23)
Long before Nike+ used radio frequency device to tell you how fast you're running, the technology was being used in World War II radar systems. In the '80s it was put to use in automated toll payment systems, enabling speedsters everywhere the ability to fly through the tolls.
The first graphical user interface was invented by Douglas Englebart in 1968, and in the late '70s and early '80s GUI design advanced, largely thanks to Apple. Because of these pioneers, we can take it for granted that we interact with our computer using a mouse and have easy-to-understand icons and other graphical controls instead of having to remember a bunch of computer commands.
Social networking via internet (#20)
Internet-based social networks really are very new. SixDegrees.com (1997) is the earliest social network site, according to PBS, but it wasn't until MySpace, which launched in 2003, that social networks began to appeal to the masses. Now, of course, there's Facebook, which gives you endless opportunities to have worlds collide, and Twitter, which empowers you to become your own paparazzi by dropping life tidbits, wisdom, and your comings and goings to your anxious followers.
Online shopping/ecommerce/auctions (#15)
Where would we be without Amazon, eBay and other online stores? Stuck in traffic on the way to the mall, that's where. Thanks to the Internet being opened up to commercial use, the ability for companies to capitalize on electronic transactions took off. As did our hunger for a more peaceful shopping experience.
Mobile phones (#3)
Take a look at your tiny little cell phone and be thankful. The first mobile phones, which Motorola unleashed on the market in 1983, were confined to the car (until a few years later when they became more mobile) and were the size of a briefcase.
PC/ laptop computers (#2)
1981 was a big year for computers: IBM launched the 5150 model (which it called a "personal computer") and the Osborne 1 became the first portable computer. Weighing in at 24 pounds, it challenges our current notion of laptop.
Coming in at #1 is the Internet. Our slavery to Google, our addiction to Twitter, our ability to keep up-to-date on any given news topic, our ability to send and receive far too many e-mails...The Internet enabled so many other phenomenon that it's startling to realize the Internet as we know it only arrived in the '90s. But it didn't take long to change our lives forever.