Hanton: Our generation sets path for next decade

Rick Hanton

This week we all are going back to some new classes for a new year and a new decade. 2011 begins the 202nd decade of the Common Era, and I know that you and I will help to make this new decade just as amazing as the last.

Let’s stop for a second to examine what has happened in the last decade to give us a feel for how far we might go by the year 2020:

Ten years ago, the World Trade Center in New York was attacked and much of the complex collapsed, killing 2,752 people buried in the rubble. Today, after two wars tied to the attacks and much work to battle terrorism at home and abroad, the structure of One World Trade Center, the successor to the twin towers is half-finished.

Back in 2001, Facebook — a website many students now use every day — was little more than a twinkle in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye. Today it is one of the most-visited websites on the internet, the place where 600 million users share their lives online.

In 2001, cell phones were larger, clunkier, and only the most advanced phones had limited internet access. The first BlackBerry devices able to easily send and receive e-mail on the go, had only just been created and had simple green and black screens. Today, millions of people can access the entire Internet on their phone and a billion dollar industry has developed just to sell web-connected phone applications or “apps.” Five billion apps were sold in 2010 alone, compared to only 300 million in 2009; 3G phone service that was in its infancy in 2001 is now available worldwide, even at the top of Mount Everest.

Back in 2001, the International Space Station was little more than a tiny three-person apartment floating around the Earth with the early inhabitants living in a small 40-foot tube. But in 2010, 10 years and nearly 1,000 hours of careful spacewalks later, the station is the size of a football field that hosts a crew of six and is resupplied by a half-dozen spacecraft from around the world.

2001 was the year that Wikipedia was founded by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger as a new type of encyclopedia. Wikipedia ended the year with around 20,000 new articles added by users. Today, just the English version of Wikipedia has more than 3.5 million articles — there are more than 250 international language versions — and has spawned hundreds of other wiki-based websites.

2001 could be said to be the year that MP3s went mainstream as Apple unveiled its first iPod digital music player, holding about 1,000 songs and costing $400. Today, more than 275 million iPods have been sold; and for the same $400, you can get an iPod with 10 times more storage, a touchscreen display, two cameras and the ability to play back high definition video.

Looking back at how far we have come in only a decade shows us how far we may go in the next 10 years. Where will our society be, what problems will you solve, how much will the world change? It is all up to you and me, so keep on working hard in your classes, in your job and in your personal life.

Who knows what places we will go and what new techniques and technologies we will develop by the year 2020. I’m excited to move forward and find out.