Which Technological Advance Of The Last 20 Years Has Most Made Your Life Easier?

In 1990, the internet was something used by fantasy baseball fanatics on CompuServe and mobile phones were the size of toddlers — a luxury for those who could afford to not use pay phones. Satellite TV meant having a massive dish on your property; millions struggled with programming their VCRs to tape L.A. Law; bills were paid by check… in the mail.

But of all the developments and advances that have occurred in the years since, which have had the most direct impact on the way you live? Obviously, I wouldn’t have a job — and you would be doing yours right now — if the Internet hadn’t exploded the way it did.

And then there are seemingly smaller things like direct-debit for paying bills, which has helped millions of absent-minded people (yours truly included) stay current on their payments and off the rolls of collection agencies.

Then again there are people we know whose lives aren’t today aren’t that different than they were 20 years ago — folks without cable TV, without cell phones, without digital cameras — and who seem just as happy as the rest of us.

So here’s your chance to tell us about those technologies that have truly changed your life — or how your life really hasn’t changed that much.

Comments

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  1. domcolosi says:

    It’s gotta be blue M&Ms.

    • raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

      I really miss the tan M&M’s … whenever I get candy from candy shops that have the M&M rainbow bins, I always get a small sack of them. While I like blue, I cannot help but resent blue for replacing tan.

  2. milkcake says:

    Cellphones and GPS. Now we have devices that combined both. Never a reason to get lost anymore and never have to look for pay phones.

    • Gruppa says:

      I would cull it down to just cellphones. Hell, they pack digital cameras, GPS, remote controls, the internet, games, stream video (TV) and more on a device smaller than your hand. You can also continue to struggle programming your VCR (tivo) using your phone. Also inclusive to the list in the OP, you can pay your bills online, through said phone.

    • mistersmith says:

      Agreed! I don’t care about 99% of “apps” but would pay the $90/month for my iPhone just to always have Google maps in my pocket. Amazing.

  3. Me - now with more humidity says:

    love that kitteh!

    • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

      Yes, technological advances in Kittenry over the last 20 years have made my life easier. Without lolcats, the crushing despair, hopelessness, and absolute irrelevance of my existence can be forgotten one cheezburger at a time.

      Now where’s that rope… OOH, KITTEH!

    • Rickdude says:

      I love the smirk; it seems to be saying, “yes, I just fragged you… AGAIN!”

    • darabidduckie says:

      Why thank you; Amos has certainly been one of the most unique cats I’ve ever had.

      @rickdude: You should see what he does to ice cubes.

  4. digital0verdose says:

    Google

  5. mk says:

    Paying bills online is one of the best things for me. So much easier to set up a payment when I get the bill in my inbox and then know that a few days before it’s due it will be paid without me having to think about it. Takes the worry of how long a check is going to get there through the mail.

    Also, I LOVE my DVR and I hate to think of going back to watching TV without it. But if I had to, I would.

  6. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    Online credit card, banking and statements have been revolutionary. Basically anything that you want to be updated in real time hugely benefitted from technology. It used to be that when you got your statement, it was already about a week old. At that point when the statement was generated, your bank account might say one thing and it not really be an accurate reflection of your bank account. Now I can log into my accounts any time of the day and get a totally accurate assessment of my finances, save for a few unposted charges or a paycheck that hasn’t depositied. It’s a heck of a lot better than receiving my bank statement on Sept. 1 to realize that the statement itself was generated a week and a half earlier.

  7. thetango says:

    The Cooper Cooler. No more waiting for warm beer to become cold beer.

  8. fatediesel says:

    Direct deposit and online banking. I haven’t been inside a bank for years.

    • sonneillon says:

      I still occasionally get checks but yeah Not having to deposit a check every week has easily saved me days worth of time.

    • RandomHookup says:

      I had direct deposit with the US Army starting in 1983 (and I think it was around earlier than that). We started mandating that everyone have a plan for direct deposit in 1985 or so. You didn’t have to do direct deposit, but you had to have a bank account set up for it in case you deployed suddenly.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        Wow, I thought the Army was stilling paying cash back in ’83. I joined after you but many of the guys in my unit made it sound like they were getting paid in cash into the mid-80’s (they were probably exaggerating).

        We didn’t have direct deposit or any mandate to have a bank account. We had checks that were distributed by our company HQ but a lot of guys just cashed them. The only time we were required to have a bank account was during pre-mob processing prior to a deployment.

        • RandomHookup says:

          I worked in the training base back then and they were just stopping the payment of AIT troops only in cash and shifting to paychecks which they then cashed at a temp bank set up for the occasion. Lots of troops still got checks, but they really wanted to go to requiring DD. The main rule at the time was that you had to be ready to set up DD if you deployed — they didn’t really enforce it until you had marching orders to go.

      • JANSCHOLL says:

        When my husband first came to Michigan in 1967 for college, he got direct deposit, I had no idea what it was but then I was in 6th grade. I have never seen a payroll check ever. And now with pension and social security, still haven’t. I did see an IRS check this year when I made a mistake and got 23 bucks back. woo hoo. But it sure is a heck of a lot easier than standing in line or having your mail box massacred like many have had happen with thieves looking for pension checks.

  9. Weighted Companion Cube says:

    The Candwich!!!!!

    • segfault, registered cat offender says:

      Is that a cat sandwich?

      • Weighted Companion Cube says:

        No it’s a sandwich in a can!! See the Consumerist story from earlier today. Though a cat sandwich may be another golden idea.

        • Platypi {Redacted} says:

          You better be talking about cute little sandwiches for cats, I doubt the people on this blog would appreciate sandwiches made OF cats!

  10. XianZhuXuande says:

    Apple iPhone.

    • XianZhuXuande says:

      Didn’t think that one went through. In any case, that’s the answer, unless I can pick the internet in general. Older than 20 years, but its real development into something incredible has definitely taken place within the last twenty years.

  11. dulcinea47 says:

    The internet, namely the ability to find information about anything at any time. Twenty years ago I was in high school and to do research for a paper we had to go to the library and use microforms, paper indexes, and the card catalog. Now I work in a University library and while I won’t say it’s easier to do research, (undergrads are clueless! you still have to be able to figure out which are appropriate resources), if you know what you’re doing you can do all of it w/o leaving your sofa at home.

    It’s also MUCH easier to settle stupid arguments… I used to actually go to the library to find information to settle arguments about things like whether daddy long legs are poisonous.

    • Gramin says:

      Daddy long legs are not poisonous (this applies to all three species commonly referred to as daddy long legs).

      And to your point about research, I would have to add Wikipedia. Though I strong discourage anyone from quoting it in scholarly research, it is generally accurate and contains a plethora of information that is quickly accessible.

      • RayanneGraff says:

        Actually they are, their fangs are just too small to bite us & deliver said poison.

        • iParadox{InLove} says:

          From Wikipedia:

          An urban legend states that Pholcidae are the most venomous spiders in the world, but because their fangs are unable to penetrate human skin, they are harmless to humans. However, recent research has shown that pholcid venom has a relatively weak effect on insects.[3] In the MythBusters episode “Daddy Long-Legs” it was shown that the spider’s fangs (0.25mm) could penetrate human skin (0.1mm) but that only a very mild burning feeling was felt for a few seconds.[4]

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      It’s amazing how easy academic research is today now that so many journal articles are available online through university subscriptions. I doubt many students (especially undergrads) ever bother digging through dusty bound versions of old articles, when they can pull up a dozen online in the same amount of time.

      Then again, I imagine the expectations of professors have probably gone up proportionately when thorough research is so easy.

    • Hooray4Zoidberg says:

      I agree, although as a side effect I do kind of miss the drunken debates with friends over which movie so and so was in. These used to provide hours of entertainment at bars but now are solved within seconds. Then we sit there and realize we really have nothing better to talk about.

  12. rpm773 says:

    That company that bakes a ring of cheese into the pizza crust.

    I mean, before, I had to actually get off the couch to stuff extra cheese in my face after eating a whole pizza pie.

  13. XianZhuXuande says:

    Technically older than twenty years, but it largely grew within that timeframe: the internet. And if I’m to pick something more specific, the Apple iPhone.

  14. katarzyna says:

    Two things come to mind immediately:

    TiVo: I can easily keep up with my favorite shows and not worry about when they’re scheduled.

    Certain databases on the internet. I mean, yes, it’s very convenient to look up anything and everything on the web these days. But being able to look up engineering material properties (for example) with a simple search, instead of having to dig through books, has been a huge time saver. I’m much more effective at my job because of it. (When I started this job, no one had a computer at their desk, but everyone had an ashtray.)

  15. MeOhMy says:

    As someone with an almost-phobic dislike of getting lost or travelling in unfamiliar places, GPS was something of a life-changer for me.

    • Mewf says:

      Agreed. No more printing off Google maps and missing exits, turns, signs, and simply losing my mind in frustration because I can’t drive and read at the same time (or at least shouldn’t).

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        I would consider Google Maps and internet maps in general as a huge advancement.

        No more picking up maps at AAA and then highlighting routes and following hand drawn maps.

  16. Amnesiac85 says:

    Streaming Netflix over my computer or game console directly to my TV for a low low price of something like 12 dollars a month.

  17. yessongs says:

    The internet in general. I met my wife back in 94, got a divorce with help of the internet, met my current girlfriend, adopted my 2 girls with help of the internet, bought my house, car, and found several jobs with help of the internet.

    • OutPastPluto says:

      The web & web browser.

      It turned a lot of highly proprietary applications into something that anyone could use. There were computer mapping programs before the web and google and mapquest but they were limited single platform deals. They could be used for only one platform and their data quickly became outdated.

      A lot of little personal information management and other data driven applications are now just webpages.

      Although the iPhone is starting to reverse that trend of de-proprieterization.

    • mianne prays her parents outlive the TSA says:

      I quit smoking in ’97 cold turkey (from 2 packs a day) with the aid of an IRC based support group. So that alone probably has had the single biggest positive effect on my life physically.

      I’ll throw in a bid along with so many others for Google, Wikipedia, and GPS.

      I personally can’t say that cellphones have changed my life too dramatically. They are convenient and all, but then as a pocket sized window into Google & Wikipedia. Though I can’t justify the data cost to use the GPS on my phone, when I always have the one that goes in my car in my purse and which costs nothing to use.

      VoIP has been a life changer though. A 2-hour phone call to the next town over 20 years ago that would have cost about $60 now is included in a $25/mo. calling plan.

  18. Mike says:

    Car GPS. Although I kind of miss the good old maps. But nothing beat the confidence of never being able to really get lost, and I love to drive and explore new places.

    • nbs2 says:

      Although, I do miss the good old days – I remember driving around with the missus looking for covered bridges and getting lost. We had a couple of generic maps to find them, but nothing to guide us once we were totally lost. All we had was one of those big US atlases to try and make our way back home.

      It was fun, it was an adventure, the kid woke up and cried the last 30 minutes, it took finding some middle of nowhere back roads in the woods and a solid sense of direction, but I wouldn’t trade that memory. Now, we’d just let the GPS take us home.

    • AustinTXProgrammer says:

      I remember climbing a mountain and comparing peaks with a topographical map (and a general idea of where we might be). Now all someone has to do is pull out a hand held GPS (although batteries will keep the paper topo map and compass useful…)

    • Murph1908 says:

      I know what you mean. In preparation for selling our house, we were cleaning it out. I threw away my US roadmap book. The cover was long gone. The corners were severely curled. There were circles and notes on the map for good spots to stop on my common long routes.

      That map had taken me to so many places, it was a sad moment to discard it.

      Not that I don’t love having GPS, and being able to get to any address without hassle. But it does take a lot of the adventure out of travelling.

      There was the time I was driving to Indiana from Chicago, and I heard on the radio that 80-94 East was backed up literally for hours, and the toll way was also severely backed up. I took some random highway off 294 heading south, figuring that it MUST intersect with Hwy 30 at some point. I drove through several small towns, and just kept going south. I did eventually hit 30, took it east to Merrilville, and got onto 65 avoiding all the traffic. It was a fun trip.

  19. Rob07 says:

    My iPhone (or smart-phones in general).

    Aside from the mobile phone bit (which is pretty significant itself), having built-in turn-by-turn navigation (TomTom App), Internet, Google, HD Video recording, audio recording, camera, restaurant recommendations (Yelp or Citysearch Apps), and remote access to other computers (LogMeIn App for work) is absolutely unbelievable.

  20. selkie says:

    The [redacted] Post Office is really horrible about losing incoming bills and outgoing payments. Because of online banking, I’ve managed to save a lot of money in late fees compared to what we used to pay.

    And as someone who has lived in small metros and small towns for most of my adult life (not planned, it’s just worked out that way) I’ve come to appreciate the world of internet shopping, which goes far beyond what used to show up in paper catalogs. We’ve bought most of the nice furniture in our house online.

    And whoever said Tivo and other DVRs, yes, huge improvement in terms of entertainment options.

  21. humphrmi says:

    - Electronic bill paying: I didn’t say ONLINE, because I use the Interwebs to pay my bills directly from my checkbook register. And it automatically downloads my transactions and current balance, so I can “balance my checkbook” (those of you under about 30 can look it up on The Google) every day.

    - Cheap mobile phones and minutes. Time & activity coordination between me and my wife is now much easier.

  22. Letsgohokies says:

    I didn’t take the time to read all the replies so I’m sure it’s been said before. Tivo, by far.

    Tivo doesn’t change the way you watch tv, it changes your life.

    God I love Tivo.

  23. mandy_Reeves says:

    Internet. Ipod touch. weight watchers points plan and not the crappy eat liver and mackerel every dang day method.

  24. delicatedisarray says:

    Medial advancements. My mother wouldn’t be alive if the procedures and devices that were used for her brain surgery didn’t exist. I just had surgery for a rare disorder with my iliac vein that involved placing a stent. I was out of the hospital the next day, back at work in a week (so would not have happened 20 years ago). I have blood tests monthly, I get my results and any orders to change my medicine doses the next day! I hope the medical industry keeps making advances, keeps being able to make lives easier, and keeps saving them.

  25. Dyscord says:

    Cell phones for sure. Also, online banking is a godsend.

  26. Bativac says:

    The Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Finally, I was playing with power… Super Power.

    • Fafaflunkie Plays His World's Smallest Violin For You says:

      And then came the Nintendo 64. Now you were playing with 3D power! Okay, the SNES was awesome to the Nth degree as well, but didn’t your jaw drop when you first played Super Mario 64? Mine did.

  27. dohtem says:

    mp3 players and the mp3 file format.

    No more cassette tapes that break forcing you to carefully unscrew them to fix it up again. And trying trying to figure out how to use the 2-tape deck to “dub” a tape only to realize you messed up the order and now the original has 60 mins of silence :(

    Damn, I’m old school.

  28. segfault, registered cat offender says:

    That’s the ugliest cat I’ve ever seen.

    Thanks though, Consumerist, for a few days of posts without cats. It was fun while it lasted.

  29. RobHoliday says:

    I don’t know how I could survive anymore without the internet. How did we get anything done?

    When I was a youngster, I had a Honda 50 minibike. It would no longer run, unless you pushed it in gear enough to warm the motor up first. So, I hopped on a bus and rode for 30 minutes to reach the downtown library. There, after a long search, I found a manual for it. I copied (written) down what the possible remedies would be then waited for an hour for the next bus home. After getting home, I tried the most likely problem first (exhaust valve adjustment) and it worked.

    What took many hours and literal “leg work” to do, now can be done in mere seconds and a few keystrokes. No wonder we are becoming obese.

    • Keith is checking the Best Buy receipt of a breastfeeding mother (for tips!) says:

      I marvel every day how I can’t even remember how I survived the first half of my life without the internet.

    • DWMILLER says:

      I took apart a rifle and could not put it togather with out the manual. Manual was up stairs in a file cabinet. I was down in the garage and I looked up the manual online with iphone. Saved a lot of time doing this. The kid didn’t like holding the phone up while i looked at what to do! I had to hold the book for dad when I was young and I can’t wait to see what my grand kids will be holding while their dad figures out what went wrong!

  30. eccsame says:

    The Roomba. Hands down, the greatest invention ever (besides lube, of course).

  31. Mr. Stupid says:

    Satellite radio. My 90 minute commute (each way) has become a radically different experience since I’ve gotten it. I probably spend more time listening to Sirius than I do surfing the web or mucking on my iPhone in any given week day.

  32. lawnmowerdeth says:

    The Fleshlight.

    • NumberSix says:

      Nah. It’s just one more thing to clean.

      • opticnrv says:

        Spoken like a true owner of one!

      • osiris73 says:

        Yeah, I agree. That squishy rubbery material sure is nice though. But when you think about it, which is more of a pain in the ass… cleaning your fleshlight of having to deal with a woman?

        *I look forward to everyone’s comments*

        • anduin says:

          cleaning takes what, 5 min? Dealing with a woman = possibly forever. I still choose the woman because rubber is no supplement for authenticity.

  33. wickedpixel says:

    craigslist – the source of every apartment i’ve lived in over the past 8 years, my car, my job, 90% of the freelance work I did before I got my job, my bike, my big-screen tv, my cats, my softball team and a handful of friends.

  34. j_rose says:

    The iPhone has made my life easier and better.

    I met my boyfriend on a twitter app for the iPhone. I deposit my paycheck using my iPhone, as well as paying all my bills. I realized the other day I hardly ever use a laptop anymore, in favor of the iPhone. I have no sense of direction, and when my GPS got stolen, I switched to using the google maps app. There’s dozens more.

  35. swarrior216 says:

    The Internet.

  36. Mr.Grieves says:

    Shake weight.

  37. David Cortright says:

    The trifect of DSL/broadband at home, wifi, and powerful laptops.

    If I had to pick just one, DSL.

  38. moralfibers says:

    Adderall

  39. Foot_Note says:

    well this dates me, but a family friend wouldnt let any of his kids (2 boys, 2 girls) take driving test without knowing how to change tires and oil/etc (think 70’s..) dark knight, poor girl on deserted road… having to wait for a non-pyscho to stop and help?… (/old fart) with cell phones, no longer have to worry about teenager getting adbucted

  40. crb042 says:

    Tivo.

    In fact, one of the few contenders for invention of the past 20 years that I’d end up referring to by brand, not by description. Consider that. Tivo is on par with Kleenex, Coke and Band-Aids.

    • Keith is checking the Best Buy receipt of a breastfeeding mother (for tips!) says:

      I love TiVo, and agree with you that it deserves mention here. But strictly from a branding/recognition/spreading the love perspective, having your brand name become synonymous with a product category is TERRIBLE: if someone thinks that any DVR is a TiVo, how can you educate that person on (and subsequently sell them) the very real differences and superiority of your product?

      You’d think that they would love it, but in fact the owners of Coke, Kleenex, and Band-Aids all hate this phenomenon and fight it at every opportunity.

  41. hewhoroams says:

    smart phones (or the internet), having the wealth of information at your fingertips has made most of my life a lot easier.

  42. B says:

    An MP3 player able to store all my entire music library on it. No more having to shuffle CDs from the car to the house, or carrying around a portable CD player.

  43. NumberSix says:

    Cell Phones and online banking.

  44. describe_one says:

    Portable digital music players players….I used to carry 10+ CDs, a CD player, and batteries years ago (and before that a walkman and a bunch of tapes)…it was a pain in the A%%. Payphones used to be everywhere, and if you had a calling card you were cool (pagers let you know if someone was trying to reach you). Cellphones are more annoying…I liken them to a leash with the internet.

  45. NarcolepticGirl says:

    The Personal Computer and Internet Super Highway

  46. B says:

    Another good one. Netscape. IE, the first web browser that wasn’t text based. The internet had been around for years, but that was what really made it a game-changer.

    • shockwaver1 says:

      You know, I still use Lynx on a daily basis. Stupid coworkers shoulder surfing while I read blogs. Everyone assumes a terminal window open is legit (since I do a lot of support work on Unix boxes).

  47. RayanneGraff says:

    I didn’t even have to think about this one- SMARTPHONES & PDAs.

    Ever since I was a kid I always dreamed of having an all-in-one communicator device, in fact I used to make myself little Lego gadgets & pretend they were real. I didn’t get my first PDA till 2001, but ever since then I’ve been hooked. Once you go geek, you can’t go back. There is nothing cooler than having a mini computer in the palm of your hand. Except maybe a subdermal implantable computer… OH MY GOD.

  48. veronykah says:

    The internet, I can communicate with people I would have lost touch with years ago, find a job and answer pretty much any question about anything. I really love it.

    DVR, I love this thing. DirecTV is smart to offer it for free for a year when you sign up. I wouldn’t get rid of it for the world now. I almost never watch live tv and never miss a program I want to see.
    Amazing.

  49. JollyJumjuck says:

    The Internet, followed closely by cell phones. It is so much easier to look up information (and so much easier to get rich when you’re very young: Justin Bieber would be some regular kid without the Internet).
    Cell phones, because it is so much easier to reach people (“I’m running late” enroute — yes I use a hands-free car kit) or for them to reach you if they don’t have your work number. Plus with texting, you don’t have to converse/reply immediately.

  50. Kid Notorious says:

    Internet porn and DVR, no question.

  51. lhfan04 says:

    for me its a tie between the snuggie and the kfc double down.

    decisions…decisions…

  52. MustWarnOthers says:

    Sliced Bread

    • mianne prays her parents outlive the TSA says:

      Yes those were dark times back in 1990. Having to tear off chunks of bread from a loaf.

  53. giax says:

    The Internet.

  54. NotEd says:

    Well mine are almost all TV related, as I was just starting my degree in Photography (wich became TV production) in 1990.
    – HDTV. Having started with shooting and editing 3/4″ videotape, I never figured on HDTV in the home like we have today.

    -DVD. I was dreaming about getting a laserdisc player around that time and never even considered something like DVD.

    -DVR. I had a VCR. DVR probably would’ve seemed like witchcraft at the time. And forget Tivo, I’m talking ReplayTV here. (RIP)

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      My wife and I were just talking about how many little luxuries have come about in the past twenty years. It wasn’t all that long ago that cars didn’t have clocks or cup holders but had lava hot vinyl seats.

  55. Thyme for an edit button says:

    Online bill pay.

  56. ArmyCats says:

    (re)Invention of 7-11 in Taiwan and Japan! I can just go into one for almost anything I need in life… You can pay your bills there, use the ATM, fax and scan, call taxi, recycle things, send/receive packages… and a lot more… Some stores even got washroom for all the tired travelers…

    Prepaid Mastercard also very convenient! Put your money in there and it works like a real credit card. Works perfectly for almost all online shopping needs… Taiwanese prepaid Mastercard do not charge ANY fee EXCEPT currency conversion fees.

  57. veronykah says:

    The internet, I can communicate with people I would have lost touch with years ago, find a job and answer pretty much any question about anything. I really love it.

    DVR, I love this thing. DirecTV is smart to offer it for free for a year when you sign up. I wouldn’t get rid of it for the world now. I almost never watch live tv and never miss a program I want to see.
    Amazing.

    MP3s, I have more music now than I could ever have ordered from Columbia House. When I hear something I like I can immediately download it (and thanks to the internet) find out more about the band and hear their entire catalog. Playlists for days, I can bring all my music in the car…

  58. Miss Dev (The Beer Sherpa) says:

    Online bill pay and online collaboration. I am the database manager for my company and it would be MUCH different if we didn’t have SaaS and “The Cloud.”

  59. teke367 says:

    Online billing would probably be it for me, if it weren’t for the fact that I’m young enough to where this has pretty much been par for the course fo rme. I realize it would seem huge if I hadn’t used it for 90% of my bill paying life.

    So I’ll go with cellphones, which granted have been around more than 20 years, it wasn’t common. I got my first phone in 1999, and I was the first person I knew who had one. I’m young, but I am old enough to remember having to track down pay phones, or collect calling, but stating my name to be “dad, pick me up” in order to avoid actually paying for the call.

  60. Jevia says:

    Internet is definitely the biggest affect on my life. Outside work, probably 90% of my social interactions with friends and family is through the internet (email, facebook, MMORPGS, picasso/snapfish, youtube). There’s the ability to pay bills on line, and I love managing my DVR on-line (plus using the internet to watch shows and movies with Netflix). I wouldn’t have met my husband without the internet, or considered moving across the country if I didn’t have the ability to keep in contact so well with my family.

  61. jeffbone says:

    Electronic fuel injection and computerized engine management systems. The days of fiddling with recalcitrant carburetors and finicky points in ignition systems just to keep the daily driver going are long gone, thank goodness…now I only have to do that on classic cars, because I want to…

  62. StevePierce says:

    Email. Hands down.

    When my sweetie was deploying to Afghanistan, I knew it it would be days or even weeks before she could get near a phone to call me. But she was able to get on-line and send me an email saying she arrived safely. It was a huge relief and I could go on with my life knowing she was OK rather than worrying.

    I remember growing up that my Mom would wait for weeks before hearing from my Dad when he was deploying for missions and back then it was a patch call through a HAM radio operator. My mom used to keep a list of all the questions to ask, never knowing when the call would come in.

    In World War II it was a letter that would arrive two months later.

    Email also allowed us to work on mundane things, like where are the keys for the cat crate. Then on those precious moments on the phone we could just talk about silly stuff or how our day went.

    Email has changed the way soldiers go to war and families back home stay connected.

    So email and the Internet gets my vote as the greatest technological change of the last 20 years.

    – Steve

  63. gabrewer says:

    Scoopable cat litter. Makes an unpleasant task much more bearable.

  64. kim_n21 says:

    20 years ago, I didn’t have a whole lot of responsibility outside of doing the dishes and getting my homework done, since I was 10, but 8-10 years ago, when I first started paying bills, etc., online banking and online billpay was not nearly as ubiquitous as it is now. Having to physically write checks, fill out the bill stubs, put them in the envelope, find stamps and then remember to put them in the mail was a major, major stumbling block to my financial life in my early adulthood. I have ADD and that was just too many things to keep track of and I routinely would remember to write out the bills but forget to send them until after the deadline (or at all…). Point and click and the money’s taken care of? Much, much better. Someday I’ll have a steady salary and I’ll be able to automate things even more and I am so, so looking forward to that day.

  65. moralfibers says:

    Adderall

  66. JulesNoctambule says:

    Th ability to operate a shop on the internet. Instead of being limited to a local market, I have buyers all around the country and the world. I’ve sent out goods to Sweden, Australia, England, Canada and Germany in the past two weeks alone.

  67. MovingTarget says:

    Uhhhhhh, the snuggie !!

  68. Blow a fuse? I can fix that... says:

    The Roomba and the Segway.

    I’ve been using computers and been on the interwebs for over 20 years, so those don’t qualify. Smartphones are fine and all, but no real sea change.

    Pre-Roomba, I shared my home with dustosaurs, but now you could almost eat off the floors on any day.

    And the Segway is the best investment I’ve ever made. I use it every day.

  69. Purplerhinoboy says:

    Nothing… We were better off twenty years ago. And, smarter too.

  70. Bye says:

    ZARVOX SPEAKABLE TEXT!

  71. quijote says:

    Since everyone has already said ‘internet,’ I’ll qualify that by saying “high speed internet.” I’m not sure dial-up made my life easier, and if we’d never moved beyond dial-up speed, I think by now we would have collectively flung the internet into the garbage out of sheer frustration.

  72. erratapage says:

    TIVO and Expedia (substitute alternative brand names if you want, but you get the idea)!

  73. basilwhite says:

    JamHub.

    Without JamHub I don’t have the money for band rehearsal space, the patience to haul gear to or from said rehearsal space, or the living arrangements that tolerate band practice in my home.

    With JamHub my band gets to exist, and I get to be in a band.

    It’s that simple.

    Basil White
    The Deathbillies

  74. gopena says:

    Online Bill Pay and banking. as a person who grew up pretty much never sending a piece of snail mail (I was 5 when my dad Had AOL…The one that didn’t let you go anywhere) The concept of getting a bill in the mail, writing a check, and then mailing it back to the company seems completely alien and pointless, especially when I can pay my cell phone bill, and my cable/internet in about 15 mins online.

  75. Emerald4me says:

    Caller i.d.!!! I haven’t had to take a call from my mother-in-law in over 5 years.

  76. the_didgers says:

    Internet banking. I moved back to Utah almost a year ago, but I still do half my banking using my Michigan credit union.

  77. Duckula22 says:

    IBM compatible CPUs and Mobos. Platforms rock!

  78. Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

    My mom says the rotavirus vaccine has made parenting infants infinitely more pleasant. She could not believe they had a vaccine against it for Mini McGee!

  79. Not Again says:

    Laser eye surgery or was it around before that? And definitely Tivo, As soon as it came out I bought one.

  80. Gulliver says:

    Easy, the internet. Remember back to the old days when you had to go to a “special” bookstore to get your porn. Every advance in technology for the internet (broadband, streaming video) is because of porn. Thank you.

  81. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    Wireless router PLUS high speed internet: 20 years ago I would have never even dreamed that I could do my “work work” at home, on my porch, outside…on a laptop computer with my feet propped up. No more being chained to my desk at work 23 miles away from my house. It’s still “work”, but in a much more comfortable and relaxing setting.

    Oh, and then there’s the Netflix with the wireless router plus high speed internet :).

  82. greg2me2 says:

    Mobile Phone

  83. DefinitiveAnn says:

    I telecommute. I am online all day, every work day, with my employer. The office is almost 1000 miles away. I will soon have a VOIP soft phone that will be just another extension of the office phone system. Facebook lets me interact with my co-workers in a friendly, hanging ’round the fax machine kind of way. I couldn’t have done any of this without high-speed internet.

  84. Fafaflunkie Plays His World's Smallest Violin For You says:

    The fact I can comment on this post, sitting out on my balcony with a beer in one hand and a smoke in the other (okay, not at this instant, after all, the fingers are typing this comment!) on a laptop connected to absolutely zero wires is the greatest technological advance IMHO. Kudos all around to wireless routers, broadband internet, and laptops. Everything else is a subset of the prior three.

  85. The Marionette says:

    Cellphones (or “smartphones”) have probably got to be at the top of most people’s list. It takes things that have already made our lives easier (phone, computer, internet, gps) and combines them into one. Grant it, smartphones don’t replace pcs entirely, but they make it a lot easier to do things. For example I can check all of my bank info from my phone’s browser instead of waiting to go home to do it.

  86. Carlee says:

    Probably the internet. Scratch that, definitely the internet. Cellphones have made our lives somewhat easier (since we no longer have to wander in search of payphones) but I was a kid back then so I didn’t make a lot of phone calls anyway.

    Every time someone at work asks me a question that I don’t know the answer to (which is like 75% of the questions they ask me), I find the answer on the internet. I can continue to look like a genius!

  87. carbonero says:

    atm card without a doubt.

  88. JANSCHOLL says:

    I dont know if I could survive without the internet as my bills are all done electronically. I don’t use checks and havent since the ’90s. But if it werent for technology in the medical field, I might not be here today. I was misdiagnosed with stomach cancer and if not for tests involving tiny cameras, I would have undergone chemo etc that wasnt necessary and could have killed me in my weakened state. I had perforating ulcers and that was bad enough but not a death sentence. So I am glad for teeny tiny cameras on a hose.

  89. DownEaster says:

    As compared to 20 years ago, the technology that has most impacted my life are computers and the Internet. Mostly for the better and sometimes for the worse. Living in a rural area having the ability to shop online or use E-Bay to get stuff has been great. It has meant cheaper prices and more choices. Sure beats long drives or catalogs. Also the instant access to information, news, and being able to pay bills and stuff online. Drawbacks have been privacy is a lot less than it was 20 years ago and that you need to be careful with what you share online. Still have a VCR, No Cable TV, and dial up Internet. That is what makes it hard living in rural America sometimes.

    • Anita says:

      Yes, I live in the boonies (the long stretch of route 460 between Richmond and Suffolk, VA) and we just got high speed internet last year. Before that, I had to go to the one room library in the old (pretty much abandoned) school, sit in the hallway and use the wifi, or drive 45 minutes to Starbucks for decent internet. I learned how to keep youtube videos so I could watch them on iTunes when I got home.

      I’d also nominate digital cameras. We never remembered to take our film or our disposable cameras to the drug store to get them developed growing up (I’m 27). We have a bag of disc film that will never see the light of day (its too expensive to get them developed from those companies online). So we have no photos from like the late 1980s to 1991 when mom bought a polaroid.

      My iphone, before the iPhone I had no interest in cell phones. I had a pay as you go virgin mobile phone. Also, my MacBook.

  90. The_Fuzz_53 says:

    The universal remote control.

  91. HogwartsProfessor says:

    I’d have to say the Internet.

    –It helped me in school.

    –I met my bf online.

    –It provides me with hours of entertainment.

    –I’ve found my last three jobs online.

    –I keep in touch with people through email and Facebook, without which I would have to spend hundreds of dollars on phone calls.

    –I’ve been able to learn things I need to know to prepare for a career change and not have to speed-read books because they have to go back to the library, wait for inter-library loans for books I need to read, or spend hours copying material either by hand or pay to use a copier.

    –If I decide to move, I can check out jobs, apartments, social life, etc. for anyplace in the world I want to live, without leaving my couch.

    If my internet goes down I throw a fit like I’ve lost a limb. I literally couldn’t live without it. It’s made communication and research so much more efficient. I could make an equal case for how much my computer by itself is a help, but it’s ten times better with the internet.

  92. Dallas_shopper says:

    Tossup between mobile phone and online banking.

  93. sssster says:

    Sham-wow, without a doubt.

  94. yami990 says:

    highspeed internet + wifi allows all computers online to facilitate research, social and amusement both personal, business and scholarly. able to reserve books, email family, games plus check on school assignments. met majority of my friends using it and able to keep in touch with the bf.
    cellphones no more scavenging to find payphones when you need to get hold of people plus texting makes for easier finding people and if anything is needed.
    mp3 players lots of lovely music and very little weight asides from spare batteries depending on how fast it goes through them makes time on the bus much more pleasant.

  95. TabrisLee says:

    Photoshop.

  96. suez says:

    Two things:

    The PC, because before they came along, I used to have to write my fiction long-hand in notebooks or type them on a typewriter (what’s that?!) with carbon paper–no kidding–and rekey entire pages of text during rewrites. But now it’s as simple as cut & paste and delete.

    The iPod, because I no longer have to lug around big books full of CDs that would be a major disaster if lost or stolen.

  97. Barbara says:

    I think for me it is the cell phone. I travel a lot to visit family and cell phones have made my life better because I can keep everyone informed where I am and when I’ll get there. Plus I have the safety of the cell phone in case of an emergency. Besides I can now text my grand kids to stay caught up in their lives.