What a year 2014 has been

2014_reviewWe’ve been nothing if not laser-focused on the tech world in 2014. Barely a fortnight remains, but oh what a year it’s been.

Hard-pressed, we could highlight a hundred important stories that have captured our attention this year.

However, just a handful have been momentous enough to highlight here. In no particular order, here are the stories that defined the year in technology.

Of course, at tech-52, ours is just one viewpoint. We’d love to read your perspectives in the comments section. What were your watershed moments in technology in 2014?

Online privacy

In June 2013, the Edward Snowden revelations began to emerge. The manifest loss of privacy in the United States and elsewhere finally hit home.NSA_genie

Sure, we suspected that our online privacy was compromised, but the magnitude of NSA data collection (emails, phone calls, and texts) was breathtaking, and continues to be a bit surreal.

Except that it’s real. The genie is very much out of the bottle and it’s not going back in.

Our curiously ineffective Congress, with an approval rating in the single digits, made sure of that when they declined to pass any legislation reining in the NSA in 2014, despite several opportunities.

Add to this the data brokers and hackers going after personal information, and our privacy is seriously eroded—if it still exists at all.

Hacking

Speaking of which, if there’s an even darker side to the privacy coin, it’s hacking. From script kiddies to organized crime to state-sponsored military-grade hackers, both the quantity and quality of hacks grew dramatically in 2014.hacker

From Target to Home Depot to Sony, the security breaches continue to come fast and furious. What they underscore is that no government, corporation, or individual is safe. If someone wants to get at your data badly enough, they will figure out a way to do it.

We’ve talked about ways to protect yourself (see here and here), but the most important thing is to remain vigilant. Check your online accounts frequently for signs of inappropriate activity. Change your passwords frequently. If the website offers two-factor authentication, activate it.

And never grow complacent. Stories of identity theft have become legend, but that’s simply not a situation you want to be in.

A few memorable corporate moments in 2014

Technology companies often set the agenda when it comes to product innovations, initiatives, and cultural statements. This year, we point out some of the audacious moments of 2014.cook_hero20110204

Tim Cook comes out. Tim Cook is the chief executive officer—the head honcho—of the richest corporation in the world, Apple Computer. He also chose to come out as gay this year, realizing the importance that his example would set for others.

“”Let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me,” Cook wrote in a column in Bloomberg Businessweek.

IBM and Apple unite. And speaking of Apple, in July, the company announced that it would be forging a partnership with a long-time competitor, IBM. The two companies would “transform enterprise mobility through a new class of business apps—bringing IBM’s big data and analytics capabilities to iPhone and iPad.”Apple_IBM_2

Ordinarily, the partnership might not seem like such a big deal, but it is interesting in the sense that Apple and Steve Jobs cut their teeth on demonizing IBM back in the day.

Said Jobs in 1985: “If for some reason, we make some giant mistakes and IBM wins, my personal feeling is that we are going to enter sort of a computer Dark Ages for about 20 years. Once IBM gains control of a market sector, they almost always stop innovation. They prevent innovation from happening.”

Clearly, Tim Cook takes a different view.

HP divides. Next to Apple, perhaps one of the most venerable technology companies is Hewlett-Packard.

Over the last decade, however, HP has struggled. The company has gone through multiple leaders, endured scandals, failing business units and revenue, and other challenges.hp-logo

In October of this year, HP’s current CEO, Meg Whitman, announced that the company would be splitting into two companies: HP, Inc. (formerly its printing and PC businesses) and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise.

Explaining the rationale, Whitman said: “The decision to separate into two market-leading companies underscores our commitment to the turnaround plan. It will provide each new company with the independence, focus, financial resources, and flexibility they need to adapt quickly to market and customer dynamics.”

We’ll see…

Net neutrality

The debate about net neutrality heated up in 2014, and continues to be one for the ages. If net neutrality is somehow compromised, bold new ideas from economically-challenged start-ups and inventors could wither and die on the vine.

social-networking_1100030787-012814-intBig network companies like Verizon and Comcast could become gatekeepers who inhibit the free flow of information, a benefit that netizens have long enjoyed.

I believe so strongly in net neutrality, that I wrote an open letter to the FCC in support of it. I was not alone, as the FCC to date has received over 3 million letters, the vast majority of which support net neutrality.

Tim Berners-Lee, who is often credited with inventing the Internet, recently made his own case for net neutrality on a Google blog post:

The web has generated trillions of dollars of economic value, transformed education and healthcare and activated many new movements for democracy around the world. And we’re just getting started…How has this happened? By design, the underlying Internet and the WWW are non-hierarchical, decentralized and radically open. The web can be made to work with any type of information, on any device, with any software, in any language. You can link to any piece of information. You don’t need to ask for permission. What you create is limited only by your imagination…Key decisions on the governance and future of the Internet are looming, and it’s vital for all of us to speak up for the web’s future…Will we allow others to package and restrict our online experience, or will we protect the magic of the open web and the power it gives us to say, discover, and create anything…On the 25th birthday of the web, I ask you to join in—to help us imagine and build the future standards for the web, and to press for every country to develop a digital bill of rights to advance a free and open web for everyone…Learn more at webat25.org and speak up for the sort of web we really want with #web25.

I’m with you, Tim.

The third platform

In a post earlier this year, I wrote about the emergence of a new paradigm in computing, the third platform. Why is it important? As I wrote earlier, because “it could change virtually every facet of our lives when dealing with the outside world.”smartphone_as_paradigm shift

Platforms refer both to computing platforms and the eras they create. If the first platform was mainframe computing, and the second platform personal computing, what is the third platform?

It as been referred to as many things: social, big data, the cloud, mobile. But it really is all those things and more, and the new era it creates is unfolding around us at an accelerating rate.

For better or worse, industry and governments are embracing the new paradigm and moving toward the third platform as the basis on which all business and personal transactions with the outside world will occur. Certainly the popularity of smartphones and other Internet-connected mobile devices have driven, and will accelerate, this process.

As I stated in my January 26 blog post:

Implemented correctly, the ubiquity of information could lead to a more democratic planet, to medical and technological advances coming from all corners of the world, to better informed and better educated, healthier and happier people. We’ll be citizens of Earth, not just our individual countries…Implemented incorrectly, there could be enormous downsides, governmental oppression, dwindling freedoms, and a world of other unforeseen problems that affect us at an individual, national, and international level.

George Orwell, anyone?

Streaming TV and the demise of cable

Finally, one of the big changes that we’re seeing—and it’s accelerating at a remarkable pace—is the decline of cable TV and the emergence of streaming entertainment. cut-the-cord

Previously, we imagined a three- to five-year period in which cable subscriptions would decline to the point where the business would no longer be sustainable.

However, recent developments make it look more like a one- to two-year window.

We have had alternatives from Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu Plus for sometime now. Lately, however, CBS has joined the streaming media cavalcade, and next year, we’ll have HBO and Showtime.

When live sports become available for streaming, that will be the final nail.

Happy Holidays!

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