What Tech is Indispensable for You?


Michael Cain

Michael is a systems analyst, with a taste for obscure applied math. He's interested in energy supplies, the urban/rural divide, regional political differences in the US, and map-like things. Bicycling, and fencing (with swords, that is) act as stress relief.

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44 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I can’t imagine living without a connection.

    Going by my gaming choices, I could probably go back to a 12-inch CRT and crappy graphics… but I don’t think that I could ever go back to meatspace permanently.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      I have the same answer for opposite reasons. Connecticity has allowed me greater access to meatspace. I can more easily plan get togethers or reconnect with old friends and re-establish meatspace relationships. And when meatspace isn’t available, it offers a decent enough proxy.

      Some wring their hands about how connectivity has left us isolated but for some it does the exact opposite.Report

  2. Avatar Road Scholar says:

    I agree with your mom. Lose the Internet and we return to 1979. Lose electricity and we’re back to 1879.Report

  3. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Electricity is a winner. There are also anti-biotics.Report

  4. Avatar James K says:

    All tech is indispensable.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      That statement includes nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons of mass destruction.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain says:

      Analog television. Asbestos fire-proofing. Telegraphs. Bessemer steel furnaces. Coal-fired external-combustion locomotives. Clipper ships. Newton’s notation for calculus (yes, I know economics still uses things like ẏ in places).

      Indispensable at a particular point in time, perhaps. All things that if we were required to go back to, rather than using their replacements, would be regarded as a serious step down.Report

      • Avatar James K says:

        I’ll admit I wasn’t thinking about obsolete technology. And for the record, I prefer Leibniz’s notation.Report

        • Avatar Michael Cain says:

          Only serious math nerds would care, but England fell behind the Continent in work in analysis (the math sort) for a hundred years because they refused to give up Newton’s klutzy notation.Report

  5. Avatar Damon says:

    Half of you didn’t even answer the question. It was TECH DEPLOYED IN YOUR LIFETIME. Electricity was deployed much earlier, unless I’m talking to a bunch of folks over 100 years old.

    For me: Storage capacity. The amount of stuff I could save electronically has increased dramatically since the 80s. I got several terabytes on the new pc. Zomg.Report

    • Avatar Road Scholar says:

      You’re right; I glossed over that conditional. In that case I would say the Internet. (Yes, I’m that old.) Inextricably related would be integrated chips and microprocessors.Report

      • Avatar Damon says:

        dude, i’m old too 🙂Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I object vociferously to the notion that this answer makes one old.Report

        • Avatar Road Scholar says:

          Depends on how you date it. If you go back to the original IP specifications and ARPANET, then early ’70’s. As a thing in the lives of ordinary folks more like 1990 or so.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain says:

        When most people say “internet” today, they’re talking about a synergy of three different things: TCP/IP, broadband access, and “always on”. A global data network based on X.25 and ATM (asynchronous transfer mode, not the teller machines) would behave quite differently than TCP/IP does. There are real reasons why I was a TCP/IP advocate at a giant telco whose traditional approach pushed it towards X.25. I’m old enough to have done TCP/IP over dial-up, in a household with four computers (my Linux box acting as the household router/gateway). The boy’s connected game time was limited to hours outside of “homework time”. He was disappointed that he had the dad who added software to the router process to enforce those limits. Broadband (which I define as at least a megabit upstream, multiple megabits downstream) really changed the kinds of media that could be implemented. Our company’s cable branch had a couple of anthropologists who did field studies on how cable modems affected people. Their work led directly to one of our most successful early sales brochures. On the front was a family gathered around a computer in the kitchen. The text said, “High speed is why you’ll try it. Always-on is why you’ll bring the computer out of the back room.” Getting rid of the 30-45 second start-up time dial-up required made it worth using the internet for lots of little things, so people wanted a browser in the places in the house where they lived.Report

  6. Avatar Aaron David says:

    Well, on a personal level, electric lights and my true RMS Fluke. Love that thing.

    On a society level? GMO’s.Report

  7. Avatar dexter says:

    There are three really important things that got their start in my lifetime. The first is the polio vaccine. The second is the wide spread availability of birth control. The third is the drugs that make aids a non life threatening disease. All three are giant fear reducing inventions.
    The internet is fun and I glad it is here but to think it is indispensable is a huge fall out of my chair laughing with tears running down my cheeks funny.Report

    • Avatar Blomster says:

      If it weren’t for the ‘in your lifetime’ provision, reliable birth control would have been right up there. I’d pick birth control before electricity.

      It’s scary to think I only made it by just more than a decade. 1960 is really not that long ago.Report

    • Avatar j r says:

      The third is the drugs that make aids a non life threatening disease.

      Why is this one of the top three? Is getting AIDS really that much less scary for the average person now? I guess that a life sentence is better than a death sentence, but marginally. The drugs are certainly a big deal for the people who get HIV, but I would think that the recognition of how the disease works and the behavioral changes it brought (ie condoms) are probably more of a factor to the overall epidemiology of the disease.Report

      • Avatar James K says:


        There’s a substantial difference between being alive and being dead.Report

        • Avatar j r says:

          Yeah, I get that. Maybe my comment isn’t clear. There’s two reasons to put AIDS drugs towards the top of the list: they saved a lot of lives or they reduced a lot of fear.

          According to the interwebs, about 15 million people are currently on AIDS drugs. That’s a lot, but oral rehydration therapy has saved about 54 million lives.

          If fear is the thing, I’m just wondering how much fear has been reduced because of the drugs as opposed to the initial reduction in fear that happened once the initial AIDS scare of the mid-80s subsided and people started getting educated about the disease. Like I said, a life sentence is better than a death sentence, but I don’t want either. My fear of AIDS is pretty much at the same level it was in the early 90s before the AIDS cocktail was a thing.Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

          James K: There’s a substantial difference between being alive and being dead.

          Specifically, 21g.Report

  8. REINER: In the 2,000 years you’ve lived, you’ve seen a lot of changes.
    » BROOKS: Certainly.
    » REINER: What is the biggest change you’ve seen?
    » BROOKS: In 2,000 years, the greatest thing mankind ever devised, I think, in my humble opinion, is Saran Wrap. You can put a sandwich in it. You can look through it. You can touch it. You can put it over your face and you can fool around and everything. It’s so good and cute. You can wrap it up. I love it. You can put three olives in it and make a little one. You can put 10 sandwiches in it and make a big Saran Wrap. Whatever you want. It clings and sticks. It’s great. You can look right through it.”
    » REINER: You equate this with man’s discovery of space?
    » BROOKS: That was good.


  9. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    For me, it’s the personal computer. Much less of a meta answer than everyone else is giving, I know. But more than anything else, I can’t imagine having lived the life that I have if the personal computer had never been a thing.Report

  10. Avatar Maribou says:

    I’m struggling to think of something that actually came about after I was born…

    Internet? Nope.
    Personal computer? Nope.
    Thyroid meds? Nope.


    There’s a lot of stuff I like – GUIs, high-capacity data storage, featherlight plastic lenses, mp3s … but nothing I consider indispensable.

    I’m probably overlooking the obvious though.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Artificial Intelligence capable of running sleeper agents.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      Netflix/Hulu/Amazon Prime streaming.

      This may seem trivial, but it has changed my everyday life pretty dramatically. One, I watch almost no appointment television whatsoever (and when I do, it’s usually because my son wants to watch The Flash as it happens), which is a a pretty big change (particularly from my late-night, insomniac habit of watching syndicated shows in the middle of the night). Two, I am able to watch shows (from basic or premium cable, e.g.) that I was never able to watch before, because I didn’t have cable. Third, I binge watch, which is a time suck to be sure, but also a really unique experience, particularly with contemporary serials. Fourth, I can watch movies without having to buy or rent them, with no worrying about late fees. Fifth, I can rewatch comfort shows as often as I like all the way through (I’ve done this with Psych and Burn Notice). Sixth, I can watch old shows with friends, almost like the book clubs y’all do here with Babylon 5 and the other stuff. Seventh, no commercials, except the few I see with Hulu or when I watch EPL games on NBC Sports Extra. And there are probably more.

      Aside from reading, if I’m at home relaxing, I’m probably watching streaming media.Report

  11. Avatar Kolohe says:

    Not indispensable to me personally but I like how tech in my lifetime has moved the fatality rate of HIV from 80% to 15%.Report

  12. Avatar Vikram Bath says:

    The home modem and it’s antecedents.Report

  13. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    Parallel processing. Coupled with numerical simulation it’s allowed us to find the bleeding age of existing so much faster & cheaper than working it by hand.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 says:

      Way back in the day, I had my mind blown by SETI@home.

      Not the SETI bit. The distributed processing architecture. I keep meaning to install BOINC and donate some spare processor time to a few projects…Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:


      Bleeding edge of existing technologyReport

  14. Avatar North says:

    Connectivity is everything for me. It delivered my husband, my community and (indirectly) my job. The internet would be one of those “cold dead hands” things for me.Report

  15. Avatar KatherineMW says:

    Internet access (which presupposes the existence of computers capable of acessing the internet). It’s replaced the newspaper, television, most paper mail, and pretty well all other communications tech, as well as encyclopedias and a lot of other information resources, and it can replace cell phones if necessary (via Skype).

    It’s also the foundation of about 95% of what I do at work.

    So that’s my pick, depending on whether we’re considering the Internet as having been developed prior to 1986.Report

  16. Avatar Joe Sal says:

    1. Excel Spreadsheet.
    2. Elevated production levels/consumption of THC.
    3. Better coffee.
    4. Cordless drill/driver.
    5. Inexpensive welding machines.Report