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What mattered most in technology in 2011

Molly Wood Dec 30, 2011

The death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs probably drew the most headlines of any technology-related story this year. Though the world knew Jobs had been sick for some time, it still came as something of a shock to lose one of the people most associated with personal technology.

Many people pointed to Jobs’s 2005 commencement address at Stanford University. If you haven’t watched it all the way through, give yourself 15 minutes and do so:

But the death of Jobs wasn’t the only story this year. We asked some of the regular guests on our program to look back and tell us the big items of 2011.

“I think the top tech story of 2011 has to be the Internet ‘kill switch’ in Egypt. It came, I think, as a surprise to almost all of the digerati that the entire state, entire country, would dare to try to throw the hypothetical large Frankenstein switch to just shut down Internet across the land. The impact the shutdown had on the Arab Spring, everything else that followed, is difficult to estimate and difficult to underestimate.” – Jonathan Zittrain, professor of law and computer science at Harvard University and a co-founder of its Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

“The top security of this year that I think most people are aware of, that had an impact on hundreds of millions of people around the world were all of these data breaches that occurred at companies like Sony and health care orgs and hospitals and diff things around the country. Literally hundreds of millions of people were impacted by these data breaches and I think it’s raised awareness about how much info we have stored out in the cloud.” – Chester Wisniewski with Sophos.

“The top tech story of 2011 was the transformative deal between Verizon and the cable guys to divide up the wireless and the wired infrastructure worlds. On Dec. 2, Time Warner and Brighthouse and Comcast made a deal with Verizon to sell the spectrum that the cable guys had to Verizon, and then to have Verizon and the cable guys work together on marketing. They agreed not to compete but to co-market their services. We’ve got a natural monopoly in wireless, natural monopoly in cable, and they’re not competing with each other. They’re two separate worlds. This is the moment when Verizon gets wireless, cable gets the wired connections and the consumer gets squeezed. ” – Susan Crawford, visiting professor at Harvard Law School and the Harvard Kennedy School.

“The top stories in 2011 all focused on the ways in which tech can be seen as savior. In early half of 2011, the focus was on the Arab Spring and opportunities tech brought to potential of democracy. In latter half of 2011, focus on Steve Jobs, and the idea that he could actually affect the economy and tech would be the savior of our contemporary economy. All of this got woven together to see tech as an opportunity, a potential, an excitement. We swing between utopian rhetorics and dystopian rhetorics around technology. In 2011, for better or worse was definitely a utopian year.” – Danah Boyd, senior researcher at Microsoft Research and a research assistant professor at NYU.

For me, I was fascinated by the grief after Steve Jobs died. People gathering in vigil at Apple stores, leaving apples with one bite missing behind in tribute to the logo. The logo! I don’t think that’s entirely about Jobs or even about Apple. It’s a sign that more than ever before technology is not just something people use, it’s something that people feel and something that people are.

Thanks for being with us in 2011.

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