Which recent invention (no more than 10 years old) has changed your life the most?
Tamara: Google maps (including Street View). I have a lousy sense of direction and a fear of getting lost. Being able to easily find my way in unfamiliar places has helped me by giving me a much wider range of places I consider to be within reach. For one thing, this opens up more possibilities for job locations (because I am no longer intimidated by the notion of going downtown).
Ewen: I would have to say smartphones. That may sound trite, but considering the way my daily life goes I think it’s genuinely true. Computers affected my life in lots of ways, and adding the internet to the equation even more so. Owning an iPhone puts both of those in a form that I can basically have with me 24/7. That isn’t always a good thing of course (as usual, we’re lagging behind in nailing down the social conventions of these things), but information is always at hand. When I need directions, bus schedules, nearby restaurants, to know what the weather will be like, and so on it’s all right there. If I feel the need to share stuff with others I have this portal to them by way of Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Tumblr, and entirely too many others. If I see something interesting I can take a picture of it and send it to hundreds of Twitter followers or one friend, or just keep the picture for myself. I can check online prices on things anywhere, take credit card payments on the spot, keep a Japanese dictionary in my pocket, and on and on. Douglas Adams once wrote an essay about how people saw the computer as a glorified calculator and then a glorified typewriter, and went on to explain that what a computer really does is model other things, from calculators and typewriters to telephones, paintbrushes, rolodexes, and more. Smartphones are more limited than desktop computers in some ways, but they also have some ridiculously useful features (constant internet connection, GPS, camera, microphone, speaker, etc.) that let them do an incredible array of things. There are more and more things where I find myself looking for an app instead of a standalone device or tool.
Bonnie: Without a doubt, the iOS family of products. There is a HUGE difference between having to tote a computer everywhere and waiting for it to boot up when you want to look something up, and just being able to yank a device out of your pocket and look it up immediately. It’s made information-gathering lightning-quick and easy – it’s probably not coincidental that my time spent in libraries has diminished considerably since I got an iPhone and iPad.
Serdar: The smartphone, but not in a good way. (You said “changed”, not “changed for the better”).
Apart from the terrible software, the appalling engineering of the handsets, the constant problems with calls being dropped (or just plain sounding like mud), the service providers making tons of money off you with overpriced service and shoehorning useless apps into your phone that you can’t even remove without breaking its security, the way it eclipses other devices and then turns into a single point of failure … there’s also the sheer invasiveness of it, the idea that if you aren’t on call 24/7 in today’s world then there’s something wrong with you, that you’re somehow ducking out on a social responsibility. I think we’re finally seeing the end of that idea, but I lay no bets.
I carry a phone because, in my line of work and in this world, I don’t have much of a choice. I use it the way I use Facebook: because I know if I don’t, I’m just handicapping myself, even if I have nothing but contempt for the thing itself.
On the other hand, the Motorola Droid Razr M I tested recently is pretty nice.
Steve: I’m going to have to go with the smartphone as well for several reasons:
Scott: Mobile computing. Not just smartphones and tablets, but the entire idea that one does not have to be at a desk or even be home to be online. Answers at a fingertip, no matter where you are. The impact probably won’t be fully known or realized for a few more years yet.