Personal Computing: The Decade's Best Digital Technology

From social media and smart phones to USB drives and Wi-Fi.

by / January 4, 2010

Identifying a great computer-related product or service is highly subjective. Business people, teenagers, stay-at-home moms and retirees typically have different perspectives, as do Windows diehards, Mac fanatics and Linux heads.

As we enter the 2010s, many publications and pundits are offering their take on the best digital technology of the past decade.

Along with the personal nature of this, another complicating factor -- at least according to purists -- is that the new decade doesn't even start until next year. They contend that just as the millennium didn't really end until 2001 because there was no Year 0, the current decade doesn't really end until 2011.

Still, it can be a useful exercise to look back to see what worked. If past is prolog, this can provide insight into what to look forward to. Here's one stab at this: the 10 most influential technologies of the past 10 years, looked at from a broad perspective.

Residential broadband. The information superhighway is all about capacity. Even though not everyone connects to the Internet through cable, fiber-optic or satellite connections, broadband in 2010 is widespread enough that many home and home-office users take for granted the multimedia that's frustratingly slow over dial-up connections. Comcast has led the way with cable, but Verizon and AT&T are providing needed competition with fiber optics, and everybody seems to be trying to encroach on one another's Internet, television and telephone turf.

Wi-Fi. No technology has unshackled the PC more than Wi-Fi, a type of wireless LAN. It has made it possible to connect to the Internet in airports, hotels, coffee shops, restaurants, supermarkets, libraries and college campuses, as well as to connect multiple PCs to the Internet from anywhere at home.

Google. While not the first search engine, Google has blown away the others by using smarter search algorithms to return more useful search results. Like its competitors, Google has diversified into other areas, successfully rolling out or acquiring and improving e-mail, blogging, photo sharing, mapping, video and other services -- and offering a free Web browser, free office productivity software, and even a free operating system.

iPod. No device has changed the music scene as much as Apple's iPod, and no device has made Apple more money. Combined with its well tuned iTunes software and store, the various iPod models let you listen to the music you want where and when you want, and depending on the model, make accessible your music videos, movies, games, photos, e-mail, contact information and more.

DVRs. Just as the iPod has revolutionized music consumption, for many, digital video recorders have revolutionized television consumption. TVs paired with DVRs put you in control, letting you watch what you want when you want, and bypass commercials. TiVo was the first big mover and shaker, but cable, phone and satellite companies have since incorporated TiVo-like capabilities into their set-top boxes.

Smart phones. Apple's iPhone is the most popular smart phone today, although the BlackBerry preceded it and still has millions of loyalists. The iPhone lets you not only make cell calls, but also exchange e-mail, browse the Web, watch and shoot video, take photos, play games and access 100,000 applications. The BlackBerry's command of e-mail -- along with its other uses -- has made it more popular than the iPhone with business users.

Social media. MySpace was the first wildly successful social media Web site, but it has since been eclipsed by Facebook and Twitter. Next to Google, Facebook is the second-most visited Web site on the Internet, letting users easily keep in touch with friends and friends of friends. Twitter goes a step further, letting those who are inclined "tweet" to others about their every move.

GPS. The Global Positioning

System was originally intended for military use, same as the Internet, but it has since become an indispensable tool for millions in determining how to drive from point A to point B in their cars using popular devices like the TomTom.

USB drives. Using storage as fast as RAM and nearly as capacious as a hard drive, these portable devices have replaced the venerable floppy disk and all other would-be successors.

Digital photography. Virtually everything exciting these days about photography is digital, from cameras and photo editing software to printers and photo sharing Web sites. As a common digital technology theme, digital photography lets you do more yourself, more quickly, with more people.

Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at or

Reid Goldsborough Contributing Writer
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at or