“We’re in for the communications ride of our lives,” CNN’s Greg Lefevre says in a January 2, 2000, broadcast dug up for the news network’s latest decade documentary, “The coming years see cell phones small enough to fit in your pocket, the promise of video phones coming true, tiny hand sized computers that know your favorite subjects, and Internet everywhere.
Talk about prescience. Though most people reading this website can likely remember the 2000s as if it were yesterday, retrospectives and nostalgia have started to come in. And even if it feels a bit too soon-ish for such treatment, it’s hard to argue with the need to acknowledge the time period’s relevance and impact. The previous decade unequivocally changed the way we operate in a technological sense: the rise of smartphones, the start of companies like Facebook, Google, and YouTube, the ability to get whatever you want whenever you want it.
CNN has been producing these decade projects for a while now—its hour on tech in the 1990s ended up among our favorite hours of 2017 TV—and it would be easy for last night’s installment to feel particularly unsurprising. After all, “The iDecade” episode of sets out to detail the evolution of technology from 2000 through 2010, essentially spelling out how today became today.
The names, products, and companies chronicled won’t shock any savvy tech watchers: Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher appear, Palm Pilots and BlackBerry get brief love (allowing Dr. Sanjay Gupta to explain the origins of “CrackBerry“). But while the hour does obligatory outlines of how the major formats and companies behind them came to be (search and Google, social media and Facebook, online video and YouTube), its main thread instead centers on the metaphorical passing elevators of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
Tech in the 2000s may have started with the seemingly gigantic AOL-Time Warner merger or the dot-com bubble bursting, but the opposite paths of Microsoft and Apple tell the larger story for CNN. Focused on businesses and tech as a tool, Microsoft started the decade 33 times larger than its Cupertino counterpart; “We have a five percent market share, but we say that’s five down and 95 percent to go,” as Jobs puts it in an interview at the time. But as Microsoft stayed the course and allowed Windows XP to usher in its new decade, Apple shifted its focus to push new product categories and develop an entire ecosystem (heck, maybe even lifestyle) it hoped customers would buy in to.
The episode depicts every major Apple marker as an unexpected move quickly turned success: retail stores beget iPods, which lead to online music stores, and that eventually surfaces the idea of an iPhone. As we see Steve Ballmer scoffing at the new offerings (“$500 fully subsidized with a plan? That is the most expensive phone in the world, and it doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard”), viewers get reminders of the famous Justin Long-John Hodgman ad campaign or hear Brian Williams describe customers applauding Apple Store employees with welcomes usually reserved for rescue workers.
The isolation of tech as something used at work or only by the enthusiast crowd simply vanished more and more with each highlighted milestone. Despite David Pogue wondering aloud about what the new etiquette may be for phones at the table or Dan Rather stressing the loss of human contact, “by the end of the 2000s, we were dependent on the Internet like we were dependent on food,” as Chris Connelly observes. Sub “tech” in for “Internet” and the sentiment still rings true; they may as well be synonymous in this documentary.
The documentary doesn’t try to answer whether this shift is good or bad, though maybe it hints at future darkpotential by briefly highlighting how impactful social media proved to be in the 2008 election or showing flashes of autonomous drones and vehicles. But when Jobs and Gates each step away from the spotlight at the end of the decade, their competing companies undoubtedly found themselves in different positions. These businesses, their products, and their decisions certainly had a lot to do with that outcome, but subtly implies our collective desire to redefine ourselves (with our tech, our allegiances, our social media profiles, search niches, or videos) contributed, too.