communications solutions

Twenty turbulent years: MCMXCVI AD > 2016

The world has changed

An accurate statement at any point in human history. However, in the last 20 years, the world has changed more rapidly and more dramatically, than at any other time in human history.

American Futurist Ray Kurzweil speaks of an exponentially increasing rate of change.

The impact of this change has been seismic. Of critical importance are the human and corporate behavioural changes which have resulted from this turbulent technological transformation. They range from professional (online collaboration) and personal (ratio of text to face-to-face verbal communication), to physiological: the thumb is the new ‘index finger’.

In 1996, law firm decision-makers were perplexed at how to view their own prospective websites, as they had typing pools but did not possess computers! Two decades later, law firms and courtrooms are filled with laptops.

In 1996, salespeople out in the field had to use a telephone to call the office or printed forms to place orders. In 2016, customers directly place their own orders and pay online.

As hardware increases in speed and capacity, software increases in complexity, and stored data increases geometrically. Petabytes (1015) of data are created every day, with the extraordinary CAGR of 42%. A recent Cisco report indicates that in 2016, global IP traffic will reach 1.1 zettabytes (1021), that’s equivalent to one exabyte (1018) or one billion gigabytes a month, and within three years, that will double!

There is an expected global storage capacity challenge. Unless denser commercial data storage technologies emerge within several years, the world’s ability to generate zettabytes of data will exceed its ability to manufacture sufficient data storage capacity. The world could be drowning in data, with nowhere to hold it!

Below are some 1996 technologies and comparisons with the situation in 2016.

Computing performance is measured in FLoating-point Operations Per Second (FLOPS).
A GigaFLOP is ten to the power of 9, (109) or 1,000,000,000 = one billion calculations.
A TeraFLOP is 1012 or 1,000,000,000,000 = one trillion calculations.
A PetaFLOP is 1015 or 1,000,000,000,000,000 = one quadrillion calculations.

In late 1996, Intel’s ASCI Red supercomputer was the world’s first computer to achieve one TeraFLOP. The amortised investment per GigaFLOP was US $30,000.

As of June 10, 2013, China’s Tianhe-2 (“Milky Way 2”) was ranked the world’s fastest supercomputer, with a record of 33.86 PetaFLOPs, at a cost of just 22c per GigaFLOP.

The Motorola StarTAC clamshell feature phone was released in 1996. At the time, Personal Digital Organisers (PDAs) had many of the features of later handheld devices. In 2016, many people over the age of 15 (in the developing world) carry a handheld computer (smartphone) in their bag or pocket.

In 1996, the world wide web had just been enabled (with the advent of the Mosaic web browser), email was a novelty (and not yet a necessity or a burden), and some of the world’s largest corporations and most recognised brands today were in their infancy or did not even exist!

In 1996, the following brands did not exist: Baidu, Wikipedia, LinkedIn, WordPress, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, WhatsApp.

All have enjoyed prodigious success since their subsequent launches:
Baidu (2000) 643 million (mn) active users per month (pm);
Wikipedia (2001) 18 billion (bn) page views pm, 500 mn unique visitors pm;
LinkedIn (2003) 400+ mn professional profiles;
Wordpress (2003) 74.6 mn sites;
Facebook (2004) 1.1 bn users;
YouTube (2005) 4 bn videos viewed per day (pd), 300 hours of content uploaded per minute;
Twitter (2006) 300+ bn tweets sent;
WhatsApp (2009) 1 bn users, 30 bn messages sent pd, (acquired by Facebook in 2014 for US$19 bn).

The world’s human population was 5.8bn. In 2016, it is 7.4bn. In 1996, there were 250,000 websites and 77 million Internet users (1.3% of the total population). In 2014, there were a billion websites and almost 3 billion Internet users (40%).

In 1996, DSVD (Digital Simultaneous Voice and Data) modems were ratified as V.70 by the ICU in 1996 and the fastest modems offered a maximum upload speed of 33.6 kbit/s (1000 bits per second).

In 2016, a DisplayPort 1.3 (4-lane High Bit Rate 3) has a capacity of 32.4 Gbit/s (32 billion bits per second).

In 1996, The first version of the Java programming language was released.

In 1996, the Macintosh was the all-in-one desktop computer offered by Apple. The MS-DOS-based, Windows 95 operating system was installed on all Microsoft computers.

In 1996, desktop monitor resolution was commonly 640 x 480 pixels. In 2016, the resolution of the current iMac desktop monitor is 5120 2880 px.

Web developers wanting consistency between O/S and monitors used 216 ‘web safe’ colours. In 2016, computer monitors can display 16,777,216 colors.

In 1996, Netscape was the most popular web browser. Internet Explorer rapidly gained users as it was bundled with Windows in PCs.

In 1996, the commonly used search engines included WebCrawler, Lycos, AltaVista, Excite and Dogpile. The Google web search engine had just been initiated as a Stanford research project.

In 1996, the first HDTV-compatible front projection television was introduced in the USA. Broadcasters, TV & PC manufacturers set industry standards for digital HDTV. Now, the film production and television monitor standard is 4K.

In 1996, Macromedia Flash (animation software) was still at version 1.0. Twenty years on, it is no longer supported, and has been superseded by HTML 5 markup language and now Google Polymer software library (used to define and style Web Components).

In 1996, Dolly the sheep, was the first mammal to be successfully cloned from an adult cell. In 2003, the Human Genome Project completed sequencing 99% of the euchromatic human genome with more than 99.99% accuracy.

In 1996, IBM computer Deep Blue defeated grand-master Garry Kasparov at chess.

In 1996, Pokémon Red and Green was released in Japan. Pokémon now has hundreds of millions of adherents, worldwide and has generated US$37.76 billion in revenue.

In 1996, David Bowie’s song “Telling Lies” became the first single offered as a digital track by a major record label. In 2015, upon the launch of the iPhone 6, rock band U2 controversially distributed their album “Songs of Innocence” for free, to every iTunes account.

In 1996, Hong Kong was still a colony of Britain, but within a year would revert to Chinese sovereignty. The 13 storey height limit and flashing neon sign prohibitions imposed on Tsim Sha Tsui buildings (due to the central Victoria Harbour location of Kai Tak International Airport) were lifted in 1997 (when the new Chek Lap Kok International Airport opened), enabling 100 storey buildings to be constructed and the city to be illuminated in a “Symphony of Light“.

The global technological, corporate and behavioural landscape has changed even more than the dramatically vertical cityscape of Hong Kong. While the changes of the twentieth century (in transportation, communications and a resulting globalisation) were revolutionary, the changes wrought in the Digital Age of the last two decades, have been unprecedented.

Despite the overuse of the word ‘future-proof’, what happens in the next 20 years is hard to foretell.


Digital Tsunami was founded in Hong Kong in 1996. The company name and brandline ‘Communications Evolution’ were selected to convey (for some, quite confrontingly) the immense and comprehensive impact which digital technology was expected to deliver. For twenty years, Digital Tsunami has consulted to global brands, MNCs and SMEs on digital strategy and content solutions which benefit these brands.


Image credit:
Frances Gunn


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