Personal Computer (PC)
This one belongs at the top! Prior to its introduction in the late 1970s, computers were huge, immovable, and extremely expensive machines used primarily by wealthy businesses and institutions. When IBM’s pioneering Model 5150 was released in 1981, that all changed. It put computing power into the homes of everyday people and forever altered the way we work, play, and communicate.
Imagine how different our lives would be if it weren’t for the world wide web. This world-altering innovation was made possible by numerous computer scientists collaborating over many years. Much of the early development, including the creation of the internet’s predecessor (ARPANET), was done by Boomers. Since its public rollout in the mid-90s, the internet has completely transformed almost every aspect of our lives, including how we shop, learn, and express ourselves.
The first commercially available mobile phone was called the DynaTAC 8000X, hitting the market in 1983. Created by Baby Boomer Martin Cooper and his team at Motorola, this groundbreaking technology was a game-changer for communication. It untethered us from the restriction of only making calls from fixed locations and was the first step along the road to the multi-talented devices we have today.
Another essential product of the computer revolution, electronic messaging transformed the way we communicate and made telegrams a thing of the past. It was invented by Ray Tomlinson in 1971, providing an instant, reliable, and cost-effective means of sending and receiving messages. It revolutionized business communication and made geographical location unimportant in relaying information. Now, with billions of emails sent every day, it’s hard to imagine life without this convenient communication tool.
Not everyone will remember this, but there was a time when people could only withdraw money during bank opening hours. In 1967, Baby Boomer John Shepherd-Barron changed all that when he invented the first automated teller machine, forever freeing us from the restrictions of working hours when it came to getting some cash. Though we take them for granted now, ATMs made it possible to withdraw cash 24/7, which is so much more convenient.
The DNA fingerprinting technique was pioneered by Alec Jeffreys in 1984 and was a breakthrough that revolutionized numerous fields. Finally, law enforcement had a powerful tool in accurately identifying the guilty and (equally as important) exonerating the innocent. It is also invaluable in asserting paternity and allows greater insight into our ancestry, our susceptibility to certain diseases, how genetically inherited traits work, and so much more.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging machines, first used in the 1970s, were developed by Paul Lauterbur and Peter Mansfield. They allowed doctors to see the soft tissues of the human body without any invasive procedures. This was an incredible leap forward in diagnosing and treating various illnesses that couldn’t be understood with X-rays alone. Nowadays, patients merely have to lie down inside the machine for a painless process that accurately images their non-skeletal body parts. Wow!
They may seem simple and unimportant, but their invention had a massive impact on the retail industry and ensured accurate pricing for shoppers everywhere. Although the technology was created by Norman Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver in the early 1950s, it wasn’t until the 70s that barcodes became a common sight. Our retail stores wouldn’t be the same without these scanners, reducing human error, increasing productivity, and transforming stock management.
Atari released the first video game (“Pong”) in the 1970s, marking the birth of an exciting new form of entertainment and spawning today’s huge gaming industry, one whose revenue surpasses even movies and music. They can also be credited with a cultural shift in the art of storytelling, as later games evolved to offer rich narratives, immersive experiences, and competitive e-sports. Yet even these most sophisticated modern games owe their existence to the early ‘Boomer’ creations.
Compact Discs (CDs)
A collaboration between tech giants Philips and Sony resulted in the introduction of compact discs in the 1980s. These shiny circles revolutionized the music industry, offering better sound quality, mobility, and durability than vinyl records and cassette tapes. They also allowed users to easily and digitally select tracks and ‘shuffle’ for the first time. This new technology made music more accessible than ever and was the precursor to today’s fully digitalized streaming services.
Created by 3M employee Arthur Fry in the late 1970s, the Post-it note may seem too simple an invention to be classed as an innovation. But, because they use a brand new, unique, re-adherable, and pressure-sensitive adhesive, Post-it notes can be stuck and restuck without leaving a residue. Their use was ubiquitous in offices everywhere, as well as schools and homes around the globe. They may be simple, but they significantly facilitate communication, organization, and learning.
GPS (Global Positioning System)
The U.S. Department of Defense was responsible for developing GPS and declared it fully operational in 1995. The system provides precise geolocation with time stamping and is now used in all modern cars and phones, helping us navigate no matter where we are. It also has a major role in industries like shipping, logistics, and farming. We may have come to take GPS for granted, but it has dramatically changed how we find our way and discover new surroundings.
In 1975, an engineer at Kodak named Steve Sasson invented the first digital camera. Although it was a long time before digital cameras became commercially viable, his invention fundamentally changed how we capture and share important moments in our lives. Before, with a reliance on film, we couldn’t hope to take hundreds of photos, view them instantly, and easily share them electronically, as we do today. Social Media wouldn’t be the same without this innovation!
Laser Eye Surgery
First performed in the late 1980s, this technology has permanently improved the vision of millions of people without the need for glasses or contact lenses. Not only is it relatively painless and straightforward, but it has allowed people to lead more comfortable, convenient lives free from the burdens of poor sight. It’s an excellent example of how Boomer-generation medical advancements have significantly improved our quality of life.
NASA developed the first Space Shuttle (reusable spacecraft) in the late 1970s. It was used to construct and maintain the International Space Station, as well as for various missions to deploy satellites and conduct interstellar research. The data acquired via the Space Shuttle program has advanced our understanding of space and inspired generations of astronauts. While the program officially ended in 2011, it will forever be synonymous with mankind’s ongoing quest for extra-terrestrial knowledge.
The Social Media boom may have occurred mostly in the 2000s, but the foundations were laid by baby boomers in the late 1990s. Websites like Six Degrees were the forerunners to modern social media sites that have transformed how we communicate, connect, share information, and entertain ourselves. Like it or loathe it, there’s no denying that social media is now a central part of our lives and culture.
Toyota famously launched the Prius, the world’s first mass-produced hybrid car, in 1997. Hybrid cars, which combine a gasoline engine with an electric motor, offer greater fuel efficiency and produce fewer emissions than conventional cars. In a world of ever-dwindling fossil fuels at ever-increasing costs, The Prius paved the way for a much-needed transition to electric vehicles. Not to mention the critical role electric cars have in addressing climate change and reducing air pollution.
Microprocessors are a complete CPU (Central Processing Unit) on a single chip and were introduced by Intel in 1971. They helped make computers smaller, cheaper, and more powerful and are now at the heart of many electronic devices we use every day, from computers and smartphones to intuitive appliances and modern cars. The technology is called a ‘cornerstone’ invention because it has so many uses and is heralded as the primary catalyst in today’s digital revolution.
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