The last thirty years have produced more information than the previous five thousand. Why? Because content has gone digital in the blink of an eye.

If an alien landed on Earth today and asked me to help them to get acquainted with our planet, I would hand them a smartphone. With our world’s history at their fingertips, they could learn everything from how to tie shoelaces to the political systems that govern our society.

For most of us, consuming digital content has become an intrinsic part of daily life. By most of us, I’m referring to the 4 billion internet users worldwide.

Through our phones and computers, we get the news, listen to music, connect with friends, make plans, learn new languages, manage our finances online, and even ask Dr.Google to diagnose ailments. How strange is it that television is usually better on the Internet than on our TVs?

The evolution of digital content has been one of the most rapid developments in history. It’s hard to believe smartphones have only been around for a decade. Now, digital data has seeped into nearly every aspect of our lives.

Today we find ourselves living in a dual world, somewhere between reality and the wonderland of cyberspace.

Let’s stop and ask ourselves: how did all content become digital?

Of course, I can only give you my perspective. With that in mind, here’s a timeline I created to help answer that question:

The Evolution of Digital Content

Our first stop is the nineties. While I was too busy listening to the spice girls on my walkman and minding my Tamagotchi, many of the tech leaders we know today were busy at work. Here’s a quick recap of exactly how far we’ve come in the past few decades.

1990 – saw the launch of ‘Archie’. Suitably named after the word ‘archive’, the stone age search engine allowed users to find specific files by indexing FTP archives. Needless to say, the role Archie’s predecessors play is slightly more complicated these days.

The Archie comics weren’t named after the search engine. But search engines that came later, like Jughead and Veronica were named after characters in the comic.

A major milestone in digital content creation was the founding of Amazon in 1994. This revolutionary online “everything store” went on to see explosive growth and continued e-commerce domination.

1997 – Sixdegrees.com was launched, a.k.a the first social media platform. Here you could make connections, send messages, and post bulletins. Basically a glorified address book.

The homepage of Sixdegrees.com, the first social media platform.

1998 – Google is born! Microsoft also launches MSN (queue the emoji takeover) and Yahoo launches web search. An exciting year all around.

2000 – The millennium sees Sixdegrees.com shut down while others scramble to take its place. As Google and Yahoo grow, they begin to stomp out smaller search engines.

2003 – Myspace launches and social media gains popularity. WordPress goes live and now anyone with a computer can write a blog (Thanks, Matt Mullenweg!).

In the same year, student Mark Zuckerberg develops ‘FaceMash’. Facebook’s unfortunate predecessor was set up as what could be described as a “hot or not” game.

Harvard students could compare photographs of two students side-by-side and vote for who they thought was better looking. Even in 2003, Mark Zuckerberg was making headlines due to the data privacy issues of his platform.

2004 – Gmail is launched. Facebook in the form close to what we know it today is released.

2005 – gives us Youtube. The first Youtube video, ’Me at the Zoo’ was uploaded by co-founder Jawed Karim. The video documenting his day at the San Diego zoo really set the tone for the artistry and greatness to come.

2006 – Twitter, which will change media forever, is born. The first tweet was posted by founder Jack Dorsey. It read: “just setting up my twttr”. How anticlimactic.

2007 – the iPhone is launched. This was accompanied by Netflix, which now has over 100 million subscribers.

2009 – Bitcoin, the first digital currency, is released. It also introduces blockchain technology which is set to change the world.

2011 – Web use surpasses TV use among younger audiences.   

2014 – Blesses us with Facebook’s Messenger app and mindnumbing tailored ads. Maybe it would have been better if 2014 just didn’t happen.

2016 – For the first time, more people are using mobile devices or desktop computers. 

This brings us to the present, where 4.6 billion pieces of new content are created online daily.

Digital Content Consumption Mania as we Know it Today

Assuming you weren’t too addicted to look up from your phone, you’ll know how drastically the world has changed over the last two years.

Today, we can watch a SpaceX rocket launch via live stream and interact with augmented reality objects on Snapchat.

If you traveled back ten years and told people that an app could use your location and augmented reality to let you doodle in your environment, they wouldn’t believe you. To be honest, I find it hard to believe too.

Let’s Center Ourselves in the Digital Whirlwind

With the digital universe growing by 40% every year, it’s estimated that by 2020, there will be as many digital bits as there are stars in the universe. In other words, that’s 44 trillion gigabytes of digital content.

The exponential rate of data creation and the universal use of the internet of things will only make our lives even more intertwined with the digital universe.

Looking back makes you see just how quickly these innovations changed the way we live today. Although we have seen both positive and negative aspect of digital content, one thing is clear. Development at such a rate is sure to bring some exciting changes in the future. If this is how far we’ve come in a decade, imagine what the next one will bring.

How do you think digital content will evolve in the coming years?

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