“Oh Wow” Moments in Technology

For anyone who’d like to play, two questions:

  • What technology or product that has come to market in the last five years most indispensable to you? And, for extra points, what, if anything, did it replace?
  • What technology or product most recently made you say “Wow”. It has to be something you can buy or use, not just some onanistic New Scientist article about the umpteenth almost moment for, say, nuclear fusion based on cat entrails or something.

I’ll start: iPhone. As Marc Andreessen likes to say, it still feels like it fell through a wormhole in space. It is also the product I could least imagine doing without.

I can’t honestly think of anything since that has had that effect. Anyone have ideas?


  1. It's just barely out of the 5 year window, but Google Maps, for certain.

  2. Keshava says:

    The Kindle – has actually changed my behavior (started reading more again) even more than smartphones.

  3. cliffelam says:

    I'/ve had a smart phone that did 99% of what I like to do for years – not miss appointments or be unable to call someone. Backed up against my Outlook.

    No, man, performance monitoring technology. My GPS watch+HRM was a revelation into the interaction between my mind and my body. Close second would be the power meter for my bike? Depressed about going 13mph up that hill? How about that you're pushing 400W doing it? Yeah baby, late middle aged and wired up!


  4. iPhone for sure, and I'd add the PVR as well (it may have been introduced a little over 5 years ago). Watching your favorite shows on your own time and fast forwarding any commercials is amazing!

  5. thomashobbs says:

    Canon 5D Mark II, totally revolutionized filming. 10x cheaper than the HD video camera that came before it.

    [it takes pretty good pictures too]

  6. iOS by a mile. Android, others were all inspired it. IOS is the biggest thing since Windows 3.0

  7. Extreme high tolerance glass. It's what makes all the handheld touch devices possible; without it, the iPhone would be 2 inches thick and weigh a couple of pounds. It's being incorporated into so many different applications, it's hard to imagine what life would be like without it today, and life with it may be unrecognizable in a few years (transparent cars and aircraft, anyone?).

  8. I'd have to say Roku – or other devices that stream content to my television … my bill for TV is now under $20. No more cable or satellite and I can't imagine going back!

  9. 3-D printing.

  10. For me, it was the introduction of teleworking at my workplace.

    I am certain that it has improved my life more than smart phones have improved the lives of any on this blog. From a huge increase in productivity to enriched family life to having more children to having more energy to a better marriage to being able to live where I want to the value is astonishing.

    In any case, I usually have a desktop computer anywhere I need to be with the functionality of a smart phone in a more ergonomic design.

  11. Cheating because its more than 5 years ago, but in 1997 I was in a taxi just leaving Heathrow airport, when it rang, it was my boss visiting a plantation in China. We both lived in Singapore… from that day onward I was always reachable. (actually, come to think of — not such a good thing)

  12. Kindle and/or iPad/iPhone for reading.

    I read something like 50-75 books a year, a freakish amount. My apartment is a testament to this, the place is just overrun with books. Now I read nearly 100% of the books I read on a mobile device, pretty much iPad and iPhone. Carrying my library around with me is even more mindblowing as having my whole album collection carried around, something that's so five years ago

  13. Within the 5 year constraint, WhatsApp application for iPhone. I have many people that I keep in touch with internationally on a mix of Blackberry/Apple devices and the cross platform free international messaging is awesome. Far more convenient than trying to set up a mutually agreed upon time for a "Skype date."

    Pushing the 5 year boundary, it is undoubtedly Facebook. It has replaced e-mail / phone as a primary method of communication with most of my social contacts that aren't in my vicinity. It allows me to stay in at least casual contact with hundreds of people I otherwise would have lost communication with due to moving or new phone numbers/e-mail addresses. Whenever I fly to a city I always check to see if there are people I know there and try to catch up.

  14. +!

  15. Mark Zuck says:


  16. Kindle for iPad/iPhone/PC/Mac has ended up being essential for me. It's replaced about 40% of the books that I buy, but I still don't like it for books I need for research, or for books with bibliographies/endnotes that I need to use.

    The things that make me say "wow" tend to be beautiful rather than techy…

  17. Google. I often wonder how we survived before we could ask The Google … pretty much anything.

  18. Pandora on my Sonos system, installed in every room of the house.

  19. readingbyeugene says:

    I say the iPad…

  20. Netflix's WatchNow. Oddly enough, what it's displaced is old-fashioned Netflix.

  21. Not last 5 years, but I still fondly remember downloading and first using the Mosaic Browser circa 1994

  22. Sometimes I live a nightmare. It's rare, but every now and again I take a quick trip to the grocery, convenience or super store and accidentally leave my iPhone sitting behind. When I realize what I've done, panic ensues. It replaced the phrase, "I don't know", which I used to say or think when someone asked me a question or even when I asked myself something.
    The Wow moment seems to happen for me quite often. It's not usually a new technology as much as it is a technology which has moved from introduction to mastership. For example: HTML5 and CSS3 are impressive on their own. However, when an experience causes me to right click, checking to see if it was made using Flash, and I discover that the experience is not Flash, I am overcome with an Oh Wow moment.

    • Paul Kedrosky says:

      That's hilarious/unnerving/etc. Thanks for sharing it — and it often happens to me too.

  23. nedofbaker says:

    If we're looking longer term, I second your thought, Killick. The internet is a technological change on the order of the printing press, the alphabet, the wheel, and fire. I don't think that's an overstatement. It's impact will only be fully understood centuries from now.

    Human language enabled one to one communication. The alphabet immortalized the written word, allowing one to many communication across time. The internet now allows many to many communication across time and space. It will change the way we live and think just like the revolutions of the spoken and written word did before it.

  24. Multiple monitor capability becoming mainstream (yes you could do it more than 5 years ago but standard office machines usually didn't have multiple outputs).

    Given the choice, I would choose multiple monitors over a smartphone any day.

  25. It breaks the 5 year rule but to this day I remember my first Tivo experience.

    As a Brit I always had a thing for US TV but just couldn't watch it owing to the ad breaks. I was used to the BBC making up >50% of my viewing. No ads. Delightful.
    Then moved to the US and was faced with watching DVDs or HBO. Fine, but a little restrictive, no to mention expensive.

    THEN Tivo! I love you Tivo. Thumbup.