The #Olympics as a marker for technological progress: From hero-faxes in 1992 to tweets, wifi and apps in 2012

It’s the first day of the Olympics, in Australia most of the action happens as we sleep – but at least we get the first and last events of the day in the evenings and early mornings.

Today I downloaded the London Olympics 2012  app and the Australian Olympic Team app and thinking about how each Olympics provides a great milestone every four years on the development of technology for this global event.

This is the first “ipad Olympics” – where apps will be our portal for information and while Facebook and Twitter in existence in Beijing, this will be the Olympics where social media will prevail as our communication method.

The place of newspapers in this post-industrial world is currently under discussion. It only seems a short time ago that each morning of the Olympics I rushed to the newspaper to get the most accurate information on the achievements and to see Australia’s medal tally.

In 1992 our family was living in the UK for a year. This was the last non-internet Olympics. During the year our communication home was via handwritten letters and very expensive landline calls. Our connection globally was through newspaper, TV and radio.

We were living in Edinburgh and one of the shops in tourist strip displayed international newspapers that were only just a few days old. One day we decided to part with about $5 and buy our Sydney newspaper. We devoured almost every word. For a news-junkie, it was a rare treat to have news from home.

The Olympic Games were held in Barcelona that year. We were staying with some Aussie friends, impressed that they had four sports channels. This meant we could get information from a variety of sports held at the same time, however, the broadcast was not necessarily in English. It was very difficult to get any information about the Australian team.

The 1996 Olympics in Atlanta had its own webpage, as an early adopter I had just started to get my head around this inter-webby-thing. The main thing the net was used for was buying tickets at fixed terminals. We sent hero-faxes to our athletes to show our support.

Then in Sydney 2000 web pages were more prevalent, however, with the Olympics in my own city, it meant the news was immediate and in my timezone. I don’t think any of us in Sydney had much time to spend on the web. The main thing we did was to share photos through email.

Both in Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008 we still accessed our information through dedicated web pages. In 2004 we subscribed to email feeds and shared the moments through our computers, that needed to be plugged in to access the internet. In 2008 social media was just starting to grab our attention and smartphones could play some digital content in real-time. Email prevailed as the main communication medium.

In 2012 the Olympics is now streamed live over the internet, another example of how digital media is gradually replacing traditional media. Apps have superseded webpages. Social media give us immediate results and information. Wireless technology means that we are connected anytime, anywhere. We don’t send hero-faxes anymore, we Tweet our heroes and hope that amongst the stream they just might read ours.

And email? This is really becoming the communication of business, we rarely use it for social purposes. Our son and daughter-in-law are currently living in London and are soaking up the Olympic experience. We communicate by Twitter and Skype and are able to share the experiences in real-time (when we are both awake). Our global communication today is daily and often, a huge leap from handwritten letters 20 years ago.

The Atlanta Olympics was the first technological leap, enabling an initial taste of global connectivity via the internet. The London Olympics has seen the next significant leap and mobile devices, apps, wifi and social media have taken us to another level.

What next? Tweet me.


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