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The Next Wave | Vol. 20 | No. 1 | 2013

Twenty years of technology: What's changed, what hasn't?

In 1993, 22.8% of US households had a computer [1]. In 2008, 39% of American adults owned a laptop [2]. As of December 2012, 45% of American adults owned a smartphone, and as of January 2013, 31% owned a tablet computer [2]. By 2017, expect movement, voice, and gesture recognition technology to lead to the development of interfaces that recognize emotion, see The next user interface.

In 1992, the first issue of Tech Trend Notes, the publication that became The Next Wave (TNW), was published. Tech Trend Notes originated as a small, black-and-white internal newsletter for NSA's information security organizations. As described in the first issue, Tech Trend Notes was intended to "provide an executive summary of new technologies. . . . Each edition will offer several articles on new and emerging [information system] technologies" [3].

Twenty years later, TNW remains dedicated to disseminating technical advances and research activities in telecommunications and information technologies. During those years, TNW grew into a glossy, full-color magazine delivered to government, academic, and industry organizations throughout the US. In 2012, TNW became an online publication available to the world through NSA's website.

Like TNW itself, communications and information technology have evolved and expanded in ways undreamed of in 1992. Twenty years ago, most users were anchored to a desktop computer with a huge cathode ray tube monitor. Today, state of the art is the latest smartphone or tablet, allowing nearly ubiquitous computing. Even though mobile computing was growing quickly in 1992, it was still very much an emerging field, as evidenced in the following point-by-point comparison of two Toshiba laptops in table 1.

Table 1. Comparison of Toshiba laptops from 1992 and 2013
  1992 2013
Model T4400 SX portable computer [4] Qosimio X875 (i.e., the company’s top-of-the-line gamer laptop) [5]
Display 9.5 inch (diagonally) color liquid crystal display screen with 640 x 480 pixel resolution 17.3 inch (diagonally) color liquid crystal display screen with 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution
Processor 25 megahertz Intel 80486SX processor 3.4 gigahertz Intel Core i7-3630QM processor
Memory 120 megabyte hard drive,
1.44 megabyte floppy drive
2 terabytes of hybrid storage between the hard drive and flash memory
Additional Features Optegra Global PC card V.34 modem plus GSM upgrade kit* Blu-ray disc rewriteable drive,
Intel 802.11 b/g/n wireless + wireless display,
High-definition webcam and microphone
Measurements 11.75 x 8.33 x 2.33 inches 10.70 x 16.50 x 1.70 inches
Weight 7.75 pounds 7.50 pounds
Price (US) $7,999 $3,000
* Upgrade kit allowed users to wirelessly transmit data through their mobile phones, which plugged into the laptop.

In two decades, Toshiba's laptops became faster and cheaper. The screen became bigger with a finer resolution. The processor speed and memory grew by orders of magnitude while shrinking in size. Flash memory started to replace the hard drive. The electromagnetic floppy drive was replaced by an optical Blu-ray drive. From being routed through the user's mobile phone, wireless communication technology became integrated with the laptop and included audio and video links.

In the early 1990s, the world hovered on the brink of a new telecommunications era. Early Tech Trend Notes articles reported with great excitement on emerging technologies that seemed to make the "fantasy" possible, the "fantasy" being mobile, universal communication [6]. True to TNW's purpose of disseminating technical advances, the remainder of this anniversary issue contains forecasts on three of the technologies that made that fantasy real—user interfaces, photonics, and wireless communication.


[1] U.S. Census Bureau. Computer use in the United States October 1993. Available at:

[2] Pew Research Center. Device ownership: Pew Research Center's Internet & American life project [updated 2013]. Available at:

[3] "Presenting Tech Trend Notes." Tech Trend Notes. 1992;1(1):1.

[4] T-series T4400SX [updated 2001]. Available at:

[5] Toshiba Qosmio X870-ST4GX1 laptop [updated 2013]. Available at:

[6] "Soldier C3 program." Tech Trend Notes. 1993;2(1):11.

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Date Posted: May 17, 2013 | Last Modified: May 17, 2013 | Last Reviewed: May 17, 2013