The researchers and engineers of the 21st century have produced marvels such as personalized hover boards, self-driving cars and, of course, the societally pervasive smartphone. While the devices are commonplace now, just a decade and a half ago they were unfathomable.

Gone are the days of buying oversized VHS tapes and vinyl records to watch movies and listen to music. Today such nostalgic items are relegated to the realm of collecting and all but obsolete. Even relatively new DVDs and CDs are going the way of the dodo bird and fading into history as streaming files and digital downloads push these items into the obsolescence.

Today, modern consumers rely heavily on smart devices for mobile entertainment and managing their daily activities. Consumers watch movies, listen to music, record the day, connect with associates and even arrange transportation with a few taps on a screen. As devices grow faster and more powerful, the things that consumers can accomplish with smartphones, tablets and laptops continue to expand. In fact, many consumers who’ve never owned a computer are digitally connected 24-hours a day via their smartphones.

In this spirit, the following five examples highlight a few of the most significant technological developments of the 21st century.

Technology 1: Self-Driving Cars

The most recent major development of the current century is self-driving vehicles. However, leaders in the field express that for this technology to work, the public transportation network must add infrastructure to support the innovation. “We need to expand conversations that are about more than vehicles,” wrote University of San Francisco’s School of Management professor William Riggs in a recent article published on The Hill. “We need to work with automakers to reshape streets that are consistent with social, economic and environmental goals.”

Technology 2: 3-D Printing

3-D printing is being used across a number of fields, including health care. The technology has many applications in the field. Using 3-D printers, care providers deliver products on-demand, an ability that may disrupt current manufacturing and distribution channels. Specialists use the innovation for feats such as creating custom dental work, personalized prescriptions, organ transplants, prosthetic limbs, and custom hearing aids.

Technology 3: Social Media

Social media is one of the biggest 21st century innovations in the world and has a formidable influence on society. As of late, events such as the cyberattacks where Russian hackers published Olympic athletes’ private medical information have done little to bolster society’s trust in the medium. Another example is how 23.1-percent of college athletes, who by default represent their institutions, admitted to posting inappropriate content in a recent social media survey. This kind of activity has prompted university officials to train athletes in social media reputation management.

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Technology 4: Bluetooth

Manufacturers introduced Bluetooth technology in 1999. As the 21st Century rolled in, the technology grew increasingly pervasive in computers and mobile devices. Since then, the many devices that power life have grown in importance pointedly. This is of notable relevance as the Internet of Things (IoT) emerges from its infancy.

Technology 5: Fiber Optics

Fiber optics technology has transformed the underlying infrastructure of devices such as televisions, telephones and the Internet. These are the technologies that most individuals who’ve heard about fiber optics think about at the mention of the innovation. The technology is also highly beneficial for applications such as medical imaging and mechanical engineering inspection. Fiber optic lines are made using optically pure glass that’s thin as human hair and can transmit uncorrupted data over extremely long distances.

At one time, the hottest cell phone on the market was the Blackberry, which featured a heavy case, bulky buttons and trivially basic entertainment. When going online, users waited a painstaking amount of time while listening to a siren song of squelches and squeals as their computers connected to the Internet. Today, consumers access free Wi-Fi nearly everywhere in select areas, which is slowly becoming an expectation rather than a privilege. One caveat about smartphones is that the devices started off large, shrank to virtually nothing and are now expanding in size once again. In many fields, consumer needs and demands result in a product that changes radically as its market matures.

In the early 21st Century, 3-D printing was just the imaginings of forward-thinking scientists. Out of these dreams, the reality of 3-D printing hardware and software came to fruition. Since it’s inception, the technology has improved drastically. With the right equipment, there’s no limit to what developers can build using the technology. In time, 3-D printing technology may allow researchers and engineers to create innovations at the speed of thought.

By Ryan Ayers

About the author

Ryan Ayers has consulted a number of companies within multiple industries including information technology and big data. After earning his MBA in 2010, Ayers also began working with start-up companies and aspiring entrepreneurs, with a keen focus on data collection and analysis.

Featured image via Unsplash.