What’s in Your Future? A Look at the Past Half Century of Changes

Jim Stewart. Founder DocuSend, powered by MTI
Posted on March 22, 2019
Technology and business

Five Decades of Change

Life looked a lot different five decades ago. In 1969, you had to dial phone numbers you looked up in a book provided by the phone company. Calling people who lived out of town required a bank loan if you talked too long. And no one knew what an email address was. Not even Al Gore.

A half-century later, technological advancements have put a computer in practically every home, cars drive themselves, and everyone over three years old needs a smartphone.

Many of these changes would not have been possible without the invention of the modern internet. Yes, the old www, the World Wide Web, the ecommerce highway. When it was first introduced in 1991, little did we suspect what an enormous impact it would have on the up-and-coming generations.

By now, many of us take the extraordinary power of instant access to information for granted. That’s a little dependent on what generation you happen to be in, of course. But the potency of having these internet tools at our fingertips means we no longer spend long hours at the library combing through their encyclopedias and periodicals (remember the microfiche reader?) to make ourselves and others brainier, shrewder, or just plain happier.

Without the Past, the Future Has Little Relativity

We’ve all been there. You can’t appreciate what it’s like to be up until you’ve been down, right? One can’t truly enjoy an eighty-dollar steak unless one has downed a few greasy cheeseburgers first. Better to drive a 1991 Yugo before test driving a new Rolls Royce.

OK, enough of that.

No matter what your chronological age, life is much different for people and businesses than it was 50 years ago. Hopefully, most of us get wiser as we get older by learning through our experiences. My wife tells me that if that’s true, I should be wise enough to be a genius by now. Don’t be fooled. Not everybody gets wiser as they age. Unlike ignorance, intelligence has its limit.

A Reminder of How We Got Here

Using data from the Pew Research Center, the US Census Bureau, and news reports, Stacker compiled a list of 50 ways our lives have changed over the past 50 years. And there’s a little tidbit at the end about what I learned from it that I hope might help a few people, particularly small business owners.

How Life Has Changed in the Last 50 Years

  • Working Moms: In the sixties, only 11% of women from households with children contributed all or most of the family income. In 2019, the number has jumped to 42%, which includes both single and married mothers.
  • Working Dads: In the sixties, men spent about two hours a week doing domestic chores. That number doubled to four hours by 2010. Still doesn’t seem like much compared to my schedule.
  • The Internet: In 1969, the US Department of Defense began using ARPANET, the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, as the precursor to the modern internet. The public didn’t get the World Wide Web until 1991. Google launch in 1998, and now nearly half the world’s population uses the internet.
  • Home Computers: IBM released the first modern desktop computer in 1975. By 2015, 78% of households had either a desktop or a laptop, and 77% had a broadband internet subscription. Laptop orders surpassed desktops for the first time in 2008.
  • Television: In the 1960s, there were only three major TV networks in the US: ABC, CBS, and NBC. Today, satellite and cable options offer hundreds of channels, including movie networks like HBO (launched in 1972) and music networks (1981).
  • Emails Send Letters Instantly: Before the proliferation of the internet, people wrote and mailed physical letters all the time. In 1996, Hotmail started a free email service that could send messages instantaneously. A year later, about 10 million people worldwide had an email address. By 2019, about 3.8 billion people are expected to use email.
  • Encyclopedias Replaced: Before Google and Wikipedia, kids thumbed through volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica or the World Book to get information for book reports or history projects. Britannica suspended printing in 2012, some say a long overdue decision.
  • Digital Books: There were no Kindles, iPads, or other e-readers 50 years ago. Just printed copies of books people carried around with them. In 2019 readers consume their pages digitally, storing hundreds or more books in one portable device. Physical books aren’t dead, though. E-book sales actually declined in 2017.
  • Landlines: More than half the population has given up their landlines since the cell phone became common in the early 2000s. Only some members of the older generations are more likely to hang on to their home phones.
  • Smartphones: Currently 95% of the US population has a cell phone, and about 77% of Americans have a smartphone. From 2007 to 2013, the smartphone saw double-digit sales growth. Since so many people now have smartphones—and are holding onto them for longer—sales decreased for the first time in 2017.
  • People Connections: In the 1960s, people were much less connected. Getting someone on the phone meant ringing them up at home or at work, not on their commute in between. Since people constantly have their cell or smartphones next to them, they're almost always reachable, which for some may not be a good thing.
  • Entertainment: The first VHS tape came to America from Japan in 1977. The original VCR cost $1,280 (more than $5,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars). Consumers rented videos (and later DVDs) beginning in 1987. When Netflix was founded in 1997, it all but eradicated video rental chains.
  • The Internet and Newspapers: Newspaper circulation increased in the ‘60s and peaked in the 1990s with more than 62 million Americans receiving a paper on Sunday morning. After the rise of the internet and major declines in advertising, Sunday circulation dropped to fewer than 34 million subscribers. Newsrooms have lost nearly half of their reporters, editors, and photographers since 2004.
  • TV Commercials Are Now Circumvent-able: With the development of DVR technology, which records live television, people can fast-forward through commercials. Not only that, with streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, viewers can avoid ads completely.
  • More People Work Remotely: Nearly 43% of working Americans work remotely for at least part of the week, and those who spent 60-80% of their time working away from the office reported the highest levels of engagement.
  • Data Storage: In 1971, IBM installed floppy disk drives into their computers, capable of storing 80 kilobytes. By 1986, the disk dimensions decreased and the storage capacity increased to 1.44 megabytes. In 2018, Samsung created a 2.5-inch device that can hold 30 terabytes of storage—enough memory for 5,700 HD movies.
  • GPS to Guide Us: No more printed maps to help us find our way. But they haven’t completely disappeared, and that may be a good thing. There are studies that show our brain’s navigational functions can go dormant when we depend on digital directions too much.
  • The Suburbs: Only 13% of Americans lived in the suburbs before World War II. By 2010, more than half of the population opted for homes outside the city. Young professionals and older Americans started bucking this trend beginning in 2014, moving back to the city.
  • Four-Legged Companions: Dog and cat ownership has quadrupled in the last 50 years, with Americans spending an all-time high of $70 billion in 2018.
  • Alternatives to Expensive Housing: Incomes have not risen at the same pace as home values. Compared to the ‘70s, renters are waiting twice as long to buy a home, with the buyers’ average age at 44.
  • American Women and Credit Cards: Believe it or not, unmarried women in the US were not allowed to get a credit card until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act was passed in 1974. And before that, married women had to have their husbands cosign their application to get one.
  • When We Marry: In 1960, 72% of people 18 and older were married. Only about half of adults were married as of 2016. On average today, women are married by 27.4 years old, and men at 29.5.
  • Music Unlimited: In 1979, people could take their music with them for the first time, with the Sony Walkman. Between 1987 and 1997, the popular device led to a 30% increase in the number of people who said they walked for exercise. Cassette tapes gave way to CDs in the ‘90s, which could be listened to on the go with a Discman. Apple's iPod debuted in 2001, and now people can access an unlimited amount of music through their smartphones.
  • Banking: In the digital age, people can deposit or transfer funds right on their computers or smartphone apps. They can also use ATMs instead of a brick-and-mortar bank. Physical branches of banks are still needed as an option, but mostly for services other than transferring funds.
  • Driving Automobiles: We don’t have flying cars yet, but self-drivers are a reality. They may still have issues and some bad press, but many believe they’ll be safer in the long run for everyone.
  • Who Needs a Car? A lot of millennials don’t think they do. They are urbanites who are foregoing car ownership entirely in favor of ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft. More than half of millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) claim they simply don’t need a car.
  • Modern Depression: Depression was considered a rare condition 50 years ago. Prozac didn’t even exist until 1987. But over the last few decades, it has become the leading cause of disability. And teenagers are reporting more anxiety than at any other time in history.
  • Retirement: As recently as 1980, 25% of men age 65 to 69 reported they were working. That number is 40% today. People are putting off retirement because they are living longer and also due to a lack of social benefits and financial stability.

What Do We Need This Information For?

Not everything is better because of technology. Some things were actually simpler to do 50 years ago.

Don’t believe it? Consider these examples:

It was easier to meet new people because people didn’t rely on their phones to communicate. In the age of the smartphone, meeting someone organically can be much more difficult. But 50 years ago, it was practically the only way to make a new acquaintance.

It was cheaper to see a movie or buy a house. And it was much easier to support a family on one income.

You could choose to stay off the grid 50 years ago. With social media, geotags, GPS, and electronic financial transactions, it’s pretty difficult to delete your digital footprint nowadays.

Working was more personal when it was less reliant on technology. Without question, our lives have benefited overall, but some are so reliant on tech, they send emails to colleagues they work in plain sight of.

Air travel didn’t require the TSA, and getting through security was a breeze. You could take a lot more items on a plane. Even scissors and baseball bats were allowed, and people didn’t have to worry why.

Political issues are now born out of the age of social media. Russia placed 3,300 ads on Facebook to sow discord during our 2016 elections. And they followed up with hundreds of fake Facebook pages featuring those very ads.

In 1960, 70% of families had only one income. Today, more than 60% have a dual income. Buying a home was much easier. In 1960, a median home cost $11,900 with a household median income of $11,900. In 2010, that same house cost $221,800 with a median income of $49,445.

Technology and the Future: Where Do We Go from Here?

My grandmother used to say: “You can understand life better by looking back at the past, but to live a good life, you must look forward to the future.” And that says it all, doesn’t it?

So here we go into our future, using technology to shape it and make it better!

The bottom line here is that technology has drastically improved the overall quality of life. It has undoubtedly made our day-to-day tasks much simpler and hassle-free. The more it advances, the more information is available to improve our lives. Innovative software and advanced technology, when used wisely, help us break bad habits and establish better ones.

Fifty years ago, it was difficult to acquire information without looking through multiple books to understand even the most rudimentary concepts of the answers we were seeking. There is no question that the vast amount of information easily available on the internet enriches every aspect of our lives.

To name a few of them:

Better medical procedures, identifying and kicking bad health habits, longer life expectancy, more efficient and reliable machines, safer air travel, and the ability to better feed the world’s growing population. The important thing to remember is that we need to make the right choices to use technology to our benefit. And that’s not always as easy as it sounds.

Conclusions

Be discriminating between technologies that work to your advantage and ones that should be rejected. If you think that requires some thought, you’re right. But it will pay off. I guarantee it. My own small but worth-mentioning contribution is DocuSend. All it does is save SMB owners from spending hours doing the menial tasks associated with manually mailing their invoices. But if you spend those hours with your kids or taking your spouse to dinner or making your business grow, then it must be the kind of technology that makes our world just a little better. Try it and let me know what you think. It was invented by a wonderful team of experts that had your business in mind. There is nothing even remotely out there like it.

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About the author
Maximizing Small Business Efficiency

Jim Stewart is the founder of DocuSend, powered by MTI. As a passionate supporter of small businesses his entire career, he dedicates much of his time helping others how to be successful. Jim and his wife Barbara live in Hilton, NY and spend their free time gardening, cooking and playing frisbee with their twin border collies.

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