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Who remembers the ‘millennium bug’ — the much-anticipated fear of computer systems being unable to cope with the switchover to 01/01/2000?

Whilst the ‘Y2K problem’ didn’t quite materialise as many were predicting, since 2000, technology has advanced drastically. This has had a huge impact on our lives, as well as causing the redundancy of many old examples of technology (which, let’s admit, some of us still have a soft spot for).

Our team of tech experts have highlighted a few of the most incredible ways technological advancements since the millennium have impacted our lives.

How technology has changed & impacted our lives in 20 years (and what’s now obsolete)

From Ceefax to the public phone box, dialup internet to the floppy disk and VHS, advancements since 2000 have consigned many old technologies to the dustbin. We’re now as connected as ever before. The sophistication of smartphones and devices, broadband’s advent and the growth of social media has transformed our work and business lives.

Has the impact been for the good? And with the phoenix-like rising popularity of vinyl and cassette, does nostalgia have an interesting future role to play? Let’s take a deeper dive into how technological changes have had their impact on our lives.

Growth in mobile phone ownership — leading to the downfall of the phone box (and landline)

It was only around the year 2000 that these mini computers started to land in our pockets in large numbers; since the millennium, mobile phone ownership in Britain has climbed from 44% to over 95%. What this means: we’ve become increasingly able to call and phone friends, family and colleagues at a moment’s notice.

This has naturally led to the near-redundancy of a few technologies, perhaps most noticeably the public payphone. Now little more than an obsolete relic of times gone by, usage of phone boxes fell by over 90% during the 2010s. Most have either been ripped out or put to new uses — some are now mini community libraries, others used to house public defibrillators.

Ofcom has pledged to save only around 5,000 phone boxes, specifically in places where use is particularly high, phone signal is poor or accidents often occur.

The landline telephone has also naturally seen a decline in popularity, albeit less marked than that of the phone box. In 2000, 95% of UK households had a landline; by 2020, it was less than three quarters (73%) — and has continued to fall since. Ofcom’s digital switchover (entailing the end of the traditional landline, and a transition to digital technology) will only serve to hasten this decline.

Increasing sophistication of smartphones and devices — meaning we’re more digitally mobile, but ‘always on’

Early noughties devices might have been able to handle little more than SMS texting, phone calls and maybe a quick game of Snake — enough, admittedly, to prompt the downfall of the landline and phone box. 

But we’ve been on quite the journey with our devices since the turn of the millennium. From the Nokia ‘brick’ to the Motorola Razr flip phone (2004) and then the iPhone, we’re now seemingly back to the foldable phones as we head into 2023 with the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip4!

Phones, laptops, tablets and PCs have grown in sophistication and capability, resulting in drastic changes in how connected we all are. The impact of this? We’re never more than a few taps away from checking social media or our work emails — or even doing some work.

Whilst the growth of email had already essentially rendered the fax machine obsolete before 2000, since the millennium the requirement to be in the office to be connected to our colleagues has vanished. 

This increasing digital mobility has allowed us to make the most of remote working. Many businesses and organisations find that the efficient, productive operation of their organisation doesn’t depend on being in the constraints of an office space — a trend accelerated by the global pandemic.

According to the ONS, with freedom from the daily commute, 78% of UK home and hybrid workers reported an improved work-life balance. Businesses have also been able to take advantage of reduced overheads, too.

However, in an age of increasing connectedness, it’s hard to distance yourself from work communications outside of office hours. Many countries have acknowledged this; in France, if you work at an organisation with more than 50 staff, you have a legally-enshrined ‘right to disconnect’ since 2016. 

The global pandemic only served to increase the encroachment of work on our private lives. But by striking the right balance, we might be able to mitigate the downsides of technology’s ‘always on’ nature whilst maximising the freedoms and conveniences afforded to businesses and their employees.

Information at our fingertips — goodbye Ceefax and print newspapers

Ceefax’s end at 11:32 PM BST on 23 October 2012 — after over 38 years of keeping us abreast of current affairs, weather, football scores, TV listings and even holiday offers — was a long time coming. As the first interactive television service, its shutdown symbolised the end of the analogue era, with the BBC Red Button and news websites the natural successors. We now consume our news online, predominantly.

Ceefax is not the only casualty of the easily accessible news sources, of course — newspaper sales have plunged in the same period.

All major titles — including The Sun, Daily Mail, Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph — have seen their circulation fall off a cliff. The pandemic hastened the decline of the physical paper, with print circulation dropping by 18% in 2021, leading to publishers doubling down on their online efforts to drive subscription and advertising revenue.

The rise of search engines — no more Yellow Pages or product catalogues

The Argos catalogue was a mainstay of any child (or adult!) drafting their Christmas list; so too was reaching for the phone directory when you’d sprang a water leak. Instead, search engines are now a comprehensive online directory for products and services. The last issue of the Yellow Pages was published in 2019.

The growth of cloud computing — heralding the end of the floppy disk, USB stick and on-site server

The cloud has transformed how we access, manage and share data, particularly in recent years. The most popular cloud storage provider, Google Drive, recently breached 2 billion users, and it’s forecast that the cloud market will grow by over 15% every year until 2030.

Global events have clearly accelerated the trend towards the adoption of cloud computing software; 51% of business leaders say it saved them during the pandemic. It’s estimated that 94% of enterprises now use it in some form.

Whether you’re doing some university coursework, creating your small business’ newsletter or sharing your multinational organisation’s latest financial outlook spreadsheet, cloud technologies have taken over from traditional forms of content creation and storage, such as the floppy disk, USB flash drive and server storage.

Just as the cloud can be the foundation of an organisation’s network infrastructure (reducing the need for expensive, large on-premise servers), it can also be used to securely store the latest draft of your shopping list.

Cloud computing products are increasingly simple to use, and can be accessed through a website, portal or app on your device. As long as you have an internet connection, users can communicate and collaborate on the same documentation, negating the need for different versions being saved locally. 

Whilst large organisations and governments make use of private, bespoke cloud systems, there are many free versions of cloud storage that are perfectly suitable for smaller-scale needs. We’ve written in a little more detail about the benefits and rise of cloud computing for businesses, as well as the rise of secure cloud storage for home and business users.

From 56Kbps to 10Gbps — au revoir, dialup ‘handshake’

We’ve come a very, very long way when it comes to internet speed since 2000. Remember the screeching of the dialup connection ‘handshake’? Or those excruciating waits for image-heavy websites to load? Or the dread of a family member picking up the landline, causing you to be unceremoniously booted offline?

Even though the UK still enjoys a distinctly poor experience when it comes to average speed (compared to other countries, anyway), our connection speed has come on leaps and bounds. 

Dialup connections had maximum speeds of 56Kbps, but in reality the speeds we saw were usually in the 1–6Kbps region. Less than 1% of households had a broadband connection in 2001.

But as instructure developed through the noughties, speeds in the region of 500Kbps arrived: frighteningly quick; around 100 times faster than a decent dialup connection. It also meant we were always connected, 24 hours a day — no need to dial up.

From there, speeds have increased another 200 times; fibre-optic brought speeds of 100Mbps by 2011, with 1Gbps speeds now not uncommon in households across Britain. In 2022 and moving into 2023, 10Gb speeds are becoming more widely available and affordable.

For a deeper dive into our connection chronicle as a nation, we’ve written an entire Learning Hub post about the journey from dialup to ultra-fast broadband!

Social networking sites — connecting us all at a moment’s notice, but at what cost?

The rise of social media has revealed how quickly our social behaviours can adapt. It started in earnest in 2003 with the growing popularity of MySpace, reaching 16 million active users by 2005. We wager most of them will still remember their ‘first friend’, MySpace Tom… 

Facebook’s rise, beginning in 2008, has been meteoric and unparalleled. Despite this seemingly-endless growth finally stopping at the end of 2021, numbers have picked up again in 2022, with the platform counting 1.96 billion users among its ranks — still by far the most popular platform, followed by YouTube, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram and, most recently, TikTok.

The impact on our lives, though?

Over nine in 10 18–24-year-olds use the internet for social networking, with its use ‘linked with increased rates of anxiety, depression and poor sleep’ according to the RSPH’s #StatusOfMind survey. They point out that rates of anxiety and depression in young people have risen 70% in the past 25 years. Instagram, in particular, is pinpointed for its impact on body image, loneliness and ‘fear of missing out’.

The story’s not all negative, though. YouTube is rated ‘most positive’ platform, scoring well for health awareness, access to information and emotional support. Social media can improve community building, self-expression, self-identity and emotional support. Businesses and like-minded groups have been able to connect and share information with ease, using the power of social media for ‘good’ to raise awareness.

Then there’s the fact social media has of course spawned a whole industry itself, growing tremendously in value over recent years.

The rise and fall of the CD (and the re-rise of the cassette and vinyl!)

In 1990, compact disc sales outperformed cassette sales for the first time, reaching the peak of its popularity in the early noughties. However, by the mid-2000s, the CD suffered the same fate as the cassette. Sales fell from their peak of £1.1billion in 2003 to under £800m by 2008.

Prompting this decline, of course, was the MP3 and the rise in music sharing and streaming. Napster and Limewire, popular-but-illegal peer-to-peer platforms for sharing music, burst onto the scene in 2000. Around the time, a reported 61% of all online traffic from college servers was the result of bandwidth-sucking MP3 file sharing! Don’t get us started on the malware that claimed so many PCs in the early noughties… 

These platforms were followed by iTunes, whose 2001 launch revolutionised how we consume music. Their catalogue of music was able to be purchased, making it far more business viable. Spotify’s 2006 launch propelled on-demand music streaming into the mainstream, and we haven’t looked back. Streaming now accounts for over 80% of all music consumption, with the growth of Amazon Prime Music stealing market share in recent years.

However, a perhaps more intriguing trend is the rise in fringe markets continuing to support the sales of vinyl and even audio cassette tapes. As a sign of our nostalgia and hunger for something tangible, vinyl sales actually grew by 23.2% last year to be at their highest level for over 30 years — with sales even forecast to eclipse the CD! Part of this is the nostalgia and desire for a physical copy, but also the argument that vinyl offers superior sound quality…

The hasty demise of the VHS — and the video rental shops

The Video Home System (VHS) was already on a steady downward trajectory as the calendar ticked over to 2000, but it was only in 2002 that sales of DVD players surpassed video recorders.

The last major Hollywood film to be released on VHS was 2006’s A History of Violence and, unsurprisingly, UK retailers have not stocked VHS tapes for many years.

Despite the DVD player running into competition too from Blu-ray and on-demand streaming services (Netflix, Prime Video and Disney+), it still firmly retains its place in the family home as a playback medium of choice.

Anyone who’s a Millennial or older will be able to attest to the ubiquity of video rental shops on the high street during the nineties and early noughties. For many, the trips to select the upcoming weekend’s film(s) was an unmissable family activity.

Unfortunately for nostalgia junkies, however, it seems unlikely that VHS will encounter a resurgence like vinyl, simply because it’s a far inferior format than DVD — and VHS tapes are so hard to come by. 

Rather than at your local Blockbuster, the only place you’ll be able to spot a VHS these days is a charity shop!

We Are Your IT: future-proofing the IT of homes and businesses

We have over two decades’ experience helping home users and businesses of all shapes and sizes enjoy a seamless IT experience. From 5Kbps through to 10Gbps, we’ve been there.

It’s been a whirlwind since the millennium, and the change doesn’t seem to be slowing up any time soon. Is your home or business’ IT braced for the future?

Whether you’re looking to level up your cybersecurity, take your connectivity up a notch, need a few device repairs or you’d like us to manage your business’ entire IT strategy, we’re here to help.

Contact our tech team today