A Look Back At A Decade In Tech

NPR's Robert Siegel talks to Xeni Jardin, co-editor of the technology-culture blog BoingBoing.net, for a look back to the year 2000. Jardin highlights three of the big tech stories that year, brings us up to date, and takes a look at what's in store for the future.

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AUDIE CORNISH, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

I'm Robert Siegel.

And it's time now for All Tech Considered, the retrospective edition. That's right, the end of the year is a time for reflection and today on All Tech we're not just going back over the year. We're going all the way back to the beginning of the decade to see just how far we've come. What was up, to quote an old "Late Night With Conan O'Brian" joke.

Unidentified Man: (singing) In the year 2000...

And joining us for this time travel adventure back to the year 2000 is Xeni Jardin, the co-editor of BoingBoing.net, a popular technology culture blog. Welcome to the program.

Ms. XENI JARDIN (Co-editor of BoingBoing.net): Hi. Great to be here.

SIEGEL: And in 2000, I gather you were living in New York City looking for the next new startup to feature in the Silicon Alley Reporter.

Ms. JARDIN: I was bouncing back and forth between Silicon Valley, Silicon Alley and Los Angeles, and there was so much happening.

SIEGEL: I was hosting All Things Considered, in those days with Noah Adams and Linda Wertheimer, and this was news...

(Soundbite of newscast)

Unidentified Speaker: We're kicking off the internet century with a unique company with unprecedented ability to accelerate the next internet revolution.

Unidentified Speaker: America Online plans to acquire Time Warner.

Unidentified Man: (singing) In the year 2000...

SIEGEL: And with some help from Youth Radio, we asked teens and 20-somethings to see if they could remember the once mighty America Online.

Unidentified Speaker: I remember everyone would get these AOL CDs and they would always have different numbers.

Unidentified Speaker: I just remember the dial tone. Every time I connected to the internet (makes noise). I don't think I could deal with it anymore. Like, if they brought that back, I would have, like, a breakdown. I'd be like, I need to get on.

SIEGEL: Xeni Jardin, remind us of how big a deal that AOL/Time Warner merger was 10 years ago.

Ms. JARDIN: It was a big deal, in part, because those little CDs were so ubiquitous. AOL was, for many people, the internet. And this was, you know, was a $164 billion deal and the first time that an internet native company had merged with a company that was native to media, to entertainment, the first time those two worlds came together in such a profound way.

SIEGEL: And can you imagine something still on the horizon that might be comparable in that sort of combination?

Ms. JARDIN: I think the obvious thing would be the NBC/Comcast deal that's in the works and concerns around that, as there were back in 2000 with AOL/Time Warner. The idea that too much consolidation makes it difficult for there to be diversity in the marketplace.

SIEGEL: Item two, the portable digital assistants were the tech gadgets of 2000. My old colleague, Noah Adams, was right on top of that story.

NOAH ADAMS: There's been a fierce competition this year among makers of handheld computers. Microsoft is promoting its PDA. Palm is pushing its Pilot and the upstart Handspring is selling the Visor.

SIEGEL: We ran all this past the Youth Radio crowd.

Unidentified Speaker: Can anybody tell me what a PDA is, please?

Unidentified Speaker: You mean public display of affection?

Unidentified Speaker: I didn't like carrying a little stick and having to press the screen with it.

Unidentified Speaker: I think of my mom, but a couple of years ago she got the iPhone.

Unidentified Speaker: I love my iPhone and I think I'm glued to it, literally.

SIEGEL: Xeni Jardin, how big was the Palm Pilot, say, back in the year 2000?

Ms. JARDIN: Oh, physically big? It was so big that you needed a special bag to carry it around in. No, it was big and I felt very special for having one early on, even though, now, looking at it, it seemed like one of those boxy cellular phones from the '80s. And it did require that funny little stylus. And I remember you kept losing them and having to order extras, like pencils.

SIEGEL: So whatever happened to the PDA?

Ms. JARDIN: It was replaced by successively more and more sophisticated devices, devices that included color and higher resolution on the displays, devices with greater processing power. And devices that took advantage of increasingly sophisticated and faster speed cellular networks like the iPhone, like the Android devices, like the BlackBerrys.

SIEGEL: So what do you think our smartphones will be able to do next in the near future?

Ms. JARDIN: There's an awful lot of excitement around what people call augmented reality applications. One that was released called "Word Lens" for the iPhone, you hold up your iPhone to some text maybe in English and you can translate that to Spanish or vice versa. The idea that you could use these devices out in the real world to help you see hidden layers of information about the world that you're navigating around in, that's where things really start to resemble, you know, something out of a William Gibson novel.

SIEGEL: Okay. AOL, PDAs, item number three from the year 2000, people probably haven't heard this company's name in a while, Napster. But in 2000, the music industry was facing a huge challenge as a result of this peer-to-peer file sharing service. And here was our then very young reporter, Guy Raz, in 2000, followed by some currently young people.

GUY RAZ: Imagine walking into Central Park, walking up to an information booth, asking where to buy drugs and being directed to the location. That's Napster.

Unidentified Speaker: When I hear the word Napster, it's like an ancient way of downloading music.

Unidentified Speaker: I used to use Limewire to download music until it got deleted forever.

Unidentified Speaker: Now, it's Frostwire.

SIEGEL: Now it's Frost - you'll have to translate that one for me.

Ms. JARDIN: Well, I actually don't use Frostwire. You know, a number of those early peer-to-peer music sharing services have obviously been part of huge legal battles with the recording industry. And many of them have gone under or they are now unrecognizable because they are trying to play by the rules. But the online file-sharing universe is still very robust. People are using torrent seeking services like Demonoid, The Pirate Bay, to find music, movies, TV shows that they're not paying for.

SIEGEL: In my introduction to Guy Raz's story back in 2000, I shared with the audience the big news that the sound files were getting just as popular as physical CDs at that point, or perhaps more so. Do you think in this decade we saw the last of the whole idea that music is on some physical tangible thing that you hold, as opposed to being on a sound file?

Ms. JARDIN: I was just talking about this last night with a few people who really love music and who really love quality sound. And there's actually sort of a resurgence in fascination with quadraphonic recordings, like people going back to find old 8-tracks and laser discs and the whole vinyl revolution, too. I don't know if this is a nostalgia from people in my age group, say 30s and 40s, whose first emotionally intense interactions with music were around music stored on a thing. But I imagine in the future, that has to fade away.

SIEGEL: Xeni Jardin, thank you very much.

Ms. JARDIN: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Xeni is a tech culture journalist and co-editor of BoingBoing.net.

Unidentified Speaker: I like Google Chrome, that's what I like.

Unidentified Speaker: StumbleUpon - you can go on it and reliably click stumble and you'll know that what you find is something that you haven't seen before, but something that you'd be really interested in.

Unidentified Speaker: I have a different tone of voice that I use on Facebook. I have a different personality that I use on my Tumbler or my Twitter. Sometimes it just gets really overwhelming.

Unidentified Speaker: I choose the internet over algebra any day.

Unidentified Speaker: I mean, technology's everything. Like, what don't people use technology for these days?

SIEGEL: The voices from Youth Radio that we heard were those of Usher Richardson(ph), Denise Dehauta(ph), Brandon McFarland(ph), Kevin Soeset(ph), Kavon Jones(ph), Ross Andrews(ph) and Catlyn Gray(ph).

This is NPR.

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