Once something becomes a part of your everyday life it’s hard not to take it for granted, as though it has always existed in some form. Although the majority of technology has followed a fairly traceable evolutionary path, some of the most vital and world-changing tech has emerged completely out of left field. And once those rare leaps in innovation got into our collective hands, they quickly became such integral components of our day-to-day existence that it’s now difficult to imagine how we ever got by without them.
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The first time I used a digital video recorder to pause live television, I thought I might've torn a hole in the fabric of time and space itself. The concept of being able to control how and when we watch television is simply revolutionary. It foreshadows the next era in media delivery in which content will be served on our own terms rather than those of a television network.
The ability to skip all the adverts, and saving a huge chunk of time in the process, is a just another added bonus. Yeah, it's worth the five extra bucks a month for one of these things.
9. Caller ID
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It may seem like a minor footnote in the history of communication, but do not underestimate the power of Caller ID. No more standing by the answering machine screening calls. And when your ex drunk-dials you at 2AM on a Tuesday, you now know exactly what's going on instead of being left to wonder what could've been. Simply put, the introduction of caller ID changed the way we use telephones forever.
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In pantheon of bachelor pads and college dorm living situations, is there a more vital appliance than the microwave oven? What the hell did people do before these things became popular in the 1970s? Well, they probably ate far fewer TV dinners, we'd imagine. A world without Totino's Pizza Rolls is one we'd rather not think about.
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Downloading files on the internet is no big deal. But the introduction of BitTorrent, and it's ingenious design, which cobbles together pieces of the same file from various sources, thus increasing the download speed drastically, was something of a game-changer.
Without BitTorrent, the MPAA would have been far less likely to have freaked out about sites like The Pirate Bay, simply because the process of downloading large files (like pirated movies, for instance) would take far longer, making it less appealing for most would-be movie watchers. BitTorrent is already out in the wild, and no matter how many lawsuits get leveled at various torrent tracking sites, the internet community's will is always stronger than a company's desire for a bolstered bottom line.
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When Bluetooth was announced a few years ago, the concept didn't seem all that revolutionary - a technology that connects things wirelessly? BFD. But now, it's providing wireless communication between devices literally everywhere - in your car, your remote control, your cell phone - even yer friggin' sunglasses. So now the whole vision of the concept is starting to come into focus.
Plus, how would we be able to spot douchebags from a block away without it?
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MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3 files have a history on the internet that goes as far back as the distant time of the mid-1990s. At that point, its value was far from obvious, largely because the distribution of MP3 files was severely hampered by the fact that the internet was still totally ghetto, and there weren't really any user-friendly programs or devices to use them with.
It also didn't help that the only people who really knew or cared about MP3s at the time were people who were really into music, and those people were also aware that MP3 files had a tendency to reduce the fidelity of the recording significantly, which didn't really provide a lot of incentive for people to get excited about them.
Then in late October of 2001, Apple unleashed upon the world the iPod, its portable MP3 player. While it wasn't the first of its kind, the iPod had a sleek user-friendly interface, the promise of "1000 songs in your pocket," and the advantage of hitting the market just as broadband internet connections were becoming mainstream. Now even our cell phones can carry many times that amount, and the sheer convenience of MP3s has taken the world by storm.
4. Video Games
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From what began in 1972 as two lines bouncing a square dot across the screen at one another has now grown into a multi-billion dollar industry that now commands the attention of people from all demographics and walks of life.
Video game releases now trump blockbuster movies in terms of revenue, and it has become common for the most raw, compelling, and innovative content to first find its way into pop culture through video games rather than movies, TV, or music. And it sure beats the hell out of board games.
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The global positioning system, and its network of transportation-tracking satellites, has forever changed the way people travel.
As a result of the Russian military shooting down a Korean civilian 747 that had mistakenly entered into restricted airspace due to a navigation error in 1983, President Ronald Reagan ordered that the U.S. military's global tracking system become available for civilian use.
This was the birth of the modern GPS system, which went online in April of 1995, and has since helped guys across the world avoid having to stop to ask directions.
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Beyond the implications of mutually assured destruction via thermonuclear warfare, nuclear technology has helped to power everything from submarines to the lightbulbs in your bathroom.
It may get a bad rap because of some cases of gross negligence, but ultimately, we still have no other alternatives to developing power that yield results anywhere near what nukes provide. And hey, those mushroom clouds look pretty badass too.
1. The Internet
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Though a lot of us are old enough to remember life before the Internet, it's hard to imagine it now. What started as two computers from different universities miraculously finding a method to talk to one another has evolved into a network so vast, so complex, and so full of sheer awesome that it is, without question, the greatest achievement in human history.
Before the Internet, how else could you get sports highlights on demand, detailed plans for making napalm, the new album from your favorite band, and donkey porn videos without bothering to get out of your chair?