I remember thinking to myself not that long ago, how cool it would be if we could talk to people and see them at the same time, like in the movies. Well that’s happened, as have so many new communication methods and technologies that life today is unrecognisable from all those years ago.

In fact, we have come so far in terms of technology and communication, that it’s hard to imagine, where we’ll be in in 20 years’ time. But in the meantime, let’s take a look back and see how tech has completely changed the way we communicate and live.


By 1996 email was becoming a “thing”, and many of us got our first email account, whether it was Yahoo or AOL, or some other obscure service provider. In those days, they were all obscure.

1996 was also the year we started using instant messaging via our computers; instant real time chats and communications at the click of a button.

1999: The Internet goes mainstream

While the internet started attracting attention in the early nineties, it was only in about 1998/99 that it went mainstream. This was when we started enjoying access to a world of information, even if it took 20 minutes for our dial-up connection to log on, and another 20 minutes to download a text document.


In the early naughties, businesses started to take notice of the internet and the idea of your business having a website quickly went from “fad” to must-have. With the ‘age of the internet’ here, businesses and private individuals were starting to pay attention in a big way.

Mobile phones

As the internet was growing in stature and usability in the late nineties, mobile phones were starting to become an ubiquitous presence in most of our lives, making communications easier and changing our social lives for ever.

Social media

As we became more and more internet-reliant, so social media products started to emerge. Many disappeared without a trace, but some still live and dominate our lives.

One of the first social media sites was Friendster. It was hugely popular, but didn’t manage its growth spurt very well, eventually dying a painful death.

Myspace followed plus a few others, before Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook in 2004 and changed social communications for everyone. People now live their lives online, sharing useless minutia and important and interesting information in equal measure.

Twitter soon followed. While the initial idea of expressing yourself in 140 characters was laughed at, Twitter proved everyone wrong. The microblogging site turned out to be a great medium to reach a critical mass of people fast, playing a major role in the “Arab Spring” and other protests around the world.

Suddenly, people found that they could reach a large number of people quickly and easily, helping agitators to drum up virtual and public support for whatever campaign they were running. It also provided a platform for following an event online and tweeting the details in real time.


The idea of smartphones was bandied about as early as 1999 but it was only in the late noughties that they embraced 3G technology. This allowed people to do almost all their communications, including shopping and banking, on their phone. More than the internet itself, the mobile phone has sent communication into the stratosphere. Today, even people without access to landlines can now join the online world.


Skype took internet communications to the next level with their instant messaging, chat and video conferencing tool. With the advent of broadband, suddenly sitting at home and talking to friends and family from around the world, while seeing them on your screen, was now happening.

Better still, once we all got 24-hour internet access, expensive international phone calls were suddenly replaced by free video chat; you could even chat on your phone. Individuals and businesses jumped on this technology, which is easy to use, cheap, and means we can now video conference with colleagues, no matter where they are.

Our wishes had come true. Now all we’re waiting for is our jet packs!

To summarise, below is a list of things we now do differently due to the huge rise in communication technology. We take it all for granted now, but this has all happened in the last 20 years.

The next 20 will be even wilder.

Business: We work in the cloud allowing everyone to access the same information and data from anywhere in the world.

Study: There are a slew of online courses allowing anyone to study online.

Social: We make plans, advertise events, and share images and information instantly with friends and acquaintances alike.

• Crowdfunding: People set up websites and apps to raise money for their special causes, whether it’s an expedition or raising money for charity.