Five years in which the world changed

26 November 2012 - 02:29 By Toby Shapshak
Toby Shapshak. Stuff editor. File photo.
Toby Shapshak. Stuff editor. File photo.
Image: Times LIVE

"Our job as columnists is to throw bricks through windows," that veritable old man of letters Chris Moerdyk told me when I first started writing this column nearly six years ago.

Moerdyk, and the then Times editor Ray Hartley, urged me to say the provocative things that needed to be said. Chris never had to suffer the grey hairs I gave Ray, and Phylicia Oppelt later on.

This is, unfortunately, my last column for The Times.

It's been a helluva ride. Technology has irrevocably changed in that time, and changed our lives.

When I began, you still had to explain tech to people. Now they know it like digital natives.

Smartphones have become our new computer, while cloud-based services have made computing more mobile. Five years ago, 90% of what we did on cellphones was make voice calls, now that's down to 26%. Cellphone networks are now blazingly fast broadband providers, giving us an always-on, available-anywhere world of hyperconnectivity previously only imagined by science fiction writers.

Once seemingly insurmountable giants of technology are being outstripped by new ones.

Microsoft, Sony, Yahoo, BlackBerry, Nokia and others have all fallen on hard times. Apple, Google and Samsung now command those heights; while social media has overtaken all else to become our default means of staying in touch.

It's hard to imagine a world without Facebook and Twitter, as all this hyperconnectivity has forever turned us into Crackberry-like thumb-twitching BBMers.

It's deeply ironic that it's called "social media" when it should be "isolated media".

We're all sitting on our phones in this bubble of isolation foolishly believing we're experiencing togetherness.

This column started in 2007, the year that the late Steve Jobs produced his most famous "and one more thing" - the iPhone.

How technology, and the world, have changed since that large touchscreen smartphone made its debut. Yet I foolishly turned down an invitation to attend that launch in California.

Phones had been getting smaller until the device, dubbed "the Jesus phone" by many, changed all that - precipitating a shift towards mobiles becoming the centre of our lives and hastening the death of the keyboard. Out of the touchscreen nirvana that followed, we got the iPad and other tablets.

Now smartphones outsell personal computers, and it won't be long before tablets do the same.

Microsoft and Intel, the duopolists of the desktop era, are outside looking in, as Google's Android and Apple iOS have usurped their roles in this mobile era.

In these six years we've seen Apple becoming the most valuable company in the world, poignantly overtaking Exxon Mobile in a uniquely 21st-century signifier that tech has usurped the oil industry.

South Africa has also changed significantly, sadly not for the better. From a president more obsessed with denying that HIV causes Aids, we've now stumbled into a leader whose administration is so mired in corruption, nepotism and incompetence scandals that it has destroyed what was left of the Rainbow Nation glow.

In the course of this column we've been part of two rugby world cups, two cricket world cups and the Fifa World Cup, which we hosted to worldwide acclaim.

The Springboks' 2007 rugby world cup victory in France was not the only sporting highlight - we saw Oscar Pistorius make history by being the first disabled person to compete in the Olympic Games - but then coach Jake White's assertion that he won it in spite of South African rugby always resonated with me. I know that feeling.

But I am off to greener pastures and I am now the publisher and editor of that fine little magazine, Stuff. You can follow my future movements on Thank you and goodbye.