The Evolution of Digital Culture

This timeline is meant to work with the book Digitized Lives by T.V. Reed.The timeline uses major devices, apps, platforms, pop cultural and political events to mark shifts in the evolution of digital cultures -- the inter-personal relationships that have developed over the Internet and related digitized spaces. The point is not the products cited but rather the products as indicators of interactions they helped enable or constrain. Napster, the iPod and later iTunes, for example, are cited to mark moments when digital tech was transforming the way people experienced recorded music.

Timelines are a crude way to render history. All timelines are selective; there are many other items that might be added but those cited should give some sense of major moments when technical and social forces combined to further digitize aspects of many people's lives. Exact dating of ongoing phenomena is also impossible. Where exact starting dates within a given year of launch is not known, I have used Apr 1 as a placeholder date, with April Fool's Day perhaps an apt notation for the foolish idea of pinning down social time in this way.;xNLx;This graphical representation relies heavily on major electronics corporate developments that, while important, cannot really tell us how these various digital tools are used by actual people. That requires the kind of social contextualization briefly noted here and found in more depth in the book.

1969-10-29 10:35:01


Giving a birthday to digital culture is an inherently arbitrary thing. Depending on one's definition, the starting point can be set back at least as far as the first digital computers in the 1940s, and as late as the 1990s. But with that caution in mind, October 29, 1969 can make a pretty good claim on being the birthday of digital culture, since it stands nicely as the birthday for the force at the center of most digital culture, the Internet. On that date ARPANET, the great-great grand ancestor of the contemporary Internet, came online. ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) was a created under the auspices of US Department of Defense. The original Net grew in part out of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the US, specifically out of a desire to create a decentralized communication network that could survive a nuclear. war. On that October day, the first internet message was sent between UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) and Stanford University. In what was a harbinger of things to come, the first attempt to send the message, in this case the word 'login,' failed. Instead, all that was transmitted was the first two letters, creating the mysterious message: 'lo.' However the message may have been interpreted at the time, we can now say that it might best be decoded as, Lo and Behold, digital culture is born. Over the next couple of decades, ARPANET expanded and morphed into increasing larger and more public networks that by the mid-1980s had become the basic structure of Internet we know today.

1982-06-25 10:35:01

Blade Runner

Digital cultures have long been entangled with science fiction films, TV shows, books and games. The interaction works both ways, with new developments in tech shaping how artists imagine the future, as well as technologists building devices under the influence of s/f. Some have traced the impact of Star Trek on the early design of the flip phone, for example. And the release of the Ridley Scott directed film Blade Runner in 1982 represents a pop culture moment expressing, among other things, anxiety about a future in which human beings are replaced by humanoid robots (replicants), and distinct national cultures become a multicultural melange. But it also gives technology a glamour that helped shape acceptance of the emerging digital world.

1984-04-01 10:35:01

Neuromancer & Cyberpunk

The publication in 1984 of William Gibson's novel Neuromancer brought the s/f genre of cyberpunk into new prominence. Gibson's coinage "cyberspace" played a role in the imagination of digital culture for several decades, as the term became the most common way of referring to the World Wide Web. Gibson's sense of cyberspace as disembodied played an unfortunate role in covering up the many ways in which users remain very much embodied as they use digital devices. More broadly, s/f played a role in popularizing the prefix "cyber" that soon attached to every kind of digital phenomenon from -cybersecurity to cybersex to cyberbullying. Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Neal Stephenson, Pat Cadiigan and other cyberpunk authors (and filmmakers) gave hackers a new level of street credibility, and glamorized a culture previously denigrated as 'geeky' and 'nerdy.'

1991-02-05 10:35:01

World Wide Web

The Internet can be traced back at least to the 1960s; the first Internet message, arguably, was sent between the University of California and Stanford University in 1969, via the US military's ARPANET. But the popular Net we know today did not really emerge until Tim Berners-Lee and others at CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire -- the key European center for nuclear research) wrote the code (HTML) that allowed the creation of the World Wide Web. While initially aimed at connecting scientists, Berners-Lee, as indicated by the name he chose, envisioned it spreading out into the wider world.

1991-04-01 10:35:01

Video Game Generations

The date here is fictitious because the long story of digital games is told in terms of generations, with a pre-history going back as the 1940s, and the first generation of serious gaming starting in the 1970s. In relation to mass digital culture, the video/digital game story might be said to start with the 5th generation which includes PC gaming and mobile phone gaming added to consoles increasingly connected to online environments in the 1990s. Key developments before the start of this chart include Atari's arcade games, especially Pong and Space Invaders, Nintendo's NES console in 1985 with the first of the Mario Bros. games.

1993-01-01 00:00:00

Mosaic Web Browser

User-friendly browsers were crucial to turning the web from a place only "geeks" could navigate to a space anyone could explore. The year 1993 saw the emergence of the first popularly accessible web browser, Mosaic. It was followed the next year by Netscape, and then in fairly rapid succession Internet Explorer (1995), Opera (1996), Apple's Safari (2003), Mozilla's Firefox (2004), and Google's Chrome (2005), to round out the array of interfaces still used by most people surfing the web today.

1995-07-05 18:23:42

The arrival of bookseller in 1995 can be said to mark the turning point in the rise of e-commerce, a move that forever changed the way people with Net access shopped. While the dot-com crash in the late 1990s set e-commernce back for awhile, the steady growth of Amazon into a massive online shopping space far beyond its initial emphasis on books can stand as an emblem of the steadily increasing amount of shopping online as opposed to face-to-face in brick and mortar stores.

1995-09-03 01:37:22


eBay was the first major and still most successful online auction site and as such represented a new kind of e-tail sharing.

1995-09-09 10:35:01

Sony Playstation

The release of the Sony PlayStation console in 1995 signaled a new era of completion with the then leader in the field, Nintendo.

1996-07-04 15:26:48

Hot Mail

The first widely used commercial e-mail program, HotMail arrived just as the 1990s boom was at its peak. Hotmail set off a rush to create a number of user-friendly ways to share personal mail.

1997-08-29 21:15:58


Netflix became, in a few years after its founding in 1997, the leading mail order provider of movies. Providing films on DVD (digital video disk), allowed them to compete with and eventually drive most video stories out of business. In 2007 it expanded beyond DVDs (it had rented more than 1 billion by that point) to become a movie streaming service. Like the music business before it, the film industry saw businesses like Netflix as preferable to movie pirating (though that practice continues) and eventually all major studios sold streaming rights to Netflix. It now controls more than 1/3 of the entire market for films streamed over the web, and in 2013 expanded once more, this time into movie production.

1997-09-03 23:15:18


Two 20 year-olds who set out to build the world's best Internet search engine, launch Google in the Fall of 1997. Within a few years, it became the standard by which all other ways of searching the web were measured.

1999-06-01 00:00:00


While file sharing, including music files, had been part of digital culture for decades, Napster was the first widely used music sharing app. It caused a major stir in the corporate music industry that has echoed for decades as industry figures, artists and music consumers have sought some balance of access to remuneration. Napster's difficulties were compounded by the famously erratic behavior of one of its founders, Sean Parker.

1999-07-01 12:35:43


RSS (Rich Site Summary/Really Simple Sydication) was the first widely popular web syndication service, providing a convenient way to have information about blogs, news sites, and any other things the subscriber wished to keep up on sent directly to the user without having to search each site. The main impact of RSS on digital culture was in making news and information tailored to one's personal interests a more central aspect of the online experience.

1999-08-23 12:35:43


The rise of online opinion offering received a boost in 1999 with the launch of Blogger, a blog hosting site that made it easier than ever before to opine on any topic through its easy to use template.

2001-01-09 21:15:58


The creation of iTunes marked a new phase in the online marketing of music. The service, touched off by the controversy surrounding music file sharing online. evolved overtime from a music player to an online store that in turn launched a slew of competitors.

2001-01-15 03:45:20


The first crowd-sourced major encyclopedia, Wikipedia, came online in 2001.

2001-11-15 10:35:01

Xbox Console

In 2001 Microsoft makes its serious entry into the game console world with the release of the first xBox. The success of xBox turned the game console industry into primarily as three-way race between Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft.

2003-01-09 06:49:06

Blackberry SmartPhone

Blackberry started making pagers [] in the late 1990s, but it was in 2003 that they upped the ante on cell phones with one of the first truly popular "personal digital assistant" (PDA), a a phone that was more than just a phone. It was so addictive it soon came to affectionately known as the Crackberry. The Blackerry was a key step along the way towards the true "smartphone," a concept widely popularized after the launch of the iPhone in 2007. Smartphones changed the nature of digital culture profoundly by offering mobile interaction with the web, giving users a sense of always being connected to social and other networks online.

2003-05-05 00:00:00


LinkedIn appeared in 2003 to offer the first major social media space designed specifically to further business networking. It became a popular site to connect potential employees to potential employers and connect workers in any number of other ways.

2003-05-27 12:35:43


Templates allowing amateurs to build websites had been around for some time, but the arrival of WordPress on the scene in 2003 demonstrated that creating aesthetically pleasing personal or business sites could be brought to new levels of sophistication. Soon there were numerous such sites, many of them initially free, all playing a role in making websites look more and more slick and professional. While especially helpful to small businesses, some users bemoaned the loss of the many do-it-yourself "homepages" of an earlier era.

2003-08-03 15:37:16


Video chat, the adding of live face-to-face visuals to an Internet connection, opened up an new era in online conversation. Such interaction reached a new level of popularity with the arrival of Skype in 2003. Some have suggested that this innovation, as with a number of others, including the flip phone, owed no small debt to science fiction works like Star Trek.

2003-10-23 00:00:00


The iPod by Apple Inc. was the first successful portable music player innovation since the Sony walkman. It signaled the beginning of a new market for small digital music devices and played a significant role more broadly in the digital music revolution.

2004-02-01 00:00:00


Flickr is a photo hosting site. While it later added videos, the site's importance was to increase the amount of personal photo sharing on the web.

2004-02-01 17:23:57


Building on early social media platforms like Friendster and MySpace. Facebook rapidly grew from it origins in the Ivy League (famously co-founded by Harvard undergraduates Mark Zuckerberg Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, Dustin Moskovitz, and Chris Hughes. to become the first the social media platform to bring one billion users into online communication. Eclipsing all other social media sites in scale, if not always in style and usefulness, FB became not only a pop culture phenomenon (in movies like The Social Network) but an increasingly important and controversial site for news impacting political life.

2004-04-01 17:23:57


While far from the first individuals or groups to practice hacktivism -- the use of computer hacking for social change activism -- Anonymous brought hacktivism to new levels of public awareness through bold actions ranging from fighting legislation aimed at limiting Internet freedoms to attacks on Scientology to supporting activists in the Arab Spring uprisings.

2004-11-05 10:35:01


Vimeo was a pioneer in online video sharing. Where its main competitor, YouTube (founded one year later) went big and gathered the largest market by encouraging all manner of amateur production, Vimeo went for a smaller, mostly more professional, market.

2005-02-15 03:45:20


The first major video sharing platform, YouTube, came online in 2005. Particularly after being purchased by Google in 2006, the grew rapidly to include, by 2017, close to 20 billion of user-uploaded videos, available in dozens of languages.

2006-03-04 01:37:22


Social media was reduced to 140 characters by the arrival of Twitter in 2006. Billions of tweets later, news, politics and personal interaction had been transformed in ways that are difficult to fathom.

2006-10-04 00:00:00


Founded by Australian hacker-journalist Julian Assange, WikiLeaks went online in 2006 as a site dedicated to making available materials from government and corporate whistleblowers that would not otherwise be available to the public. WikiLeaks has published hundreds of thousands of documents, including many relating to US intelligence, diplomatic and military activities. This particular set of leaked documents has led the US government to seek to extradite Assange to face criminal charges. WikiLeaks became embroiled in a very different controversy in 2016 by published hacked documents from the Hillary Clinton presidential election campaign. Like Anonymous and former US government intelligence officer Edward Snowden (whom Wikileaks assisted at one time), the site and its controversial editor have raised the profile of hacktivism to higher levels than ever before.

2006-11-19 22:17:50

Nintendo Wii

The release of the Nintendo Wii controller in 2006 changed how video games could be played by adding a kinetic element with a controller that could mimic bodily movements like a bat swing or tennis stroke.

2007-01-09 06:49:06


In January of 2007, Steve Jobs of Apple unveiled the iPhone, the device that forever changed the idea of what a phone can be, transforming the cell phone into a full-fledged digital culture platform.

2007-02-04 01:37:22


Social media took a visual turn with the arrival of Tumblr on the scene in 2007. By 2017, the platform was hosting close to 400 million posts.

2008-10-07 21:15:58


Spotify was launched in 2008 from its base in Stockholm, Sweden and has grown to be one of the most successful music streaming sites on the web. Spotify is one of many music sites challenging the initial dominance of Apple's iTunes store.

2008-10-22 11:48:27

Android Phones

When Google acquired the tech firm Android, speculation began to grow that the search engine corporation was going to branch out into cellphones. They did so when they offered the first Android, Linux OS based phones in 2008. Over time they have grown to rival Apple as the prime producers of smartphones.

2010-04-01 10:35:01


While the term "gamification" dates back to at least 2002, the year 2010 seems to be the moment when the concept really took off. Gamification means to turn something not previously thought of as a game into one. Gamification is being applied across a range of social territories. In business, increasing numbers of stores are using games as a way to lure customers online (where they can log your taste preferences) and to deepen brand loyalty. Think of the Foursquare game at Starbucks or Nike's + platform. While business gamiifcation seems solely designed to increase profits, gamification is also being used in science and healtlh, in education, and for the purposes of positive political change. In the field of education many folks are working to get beyond the bad reputation that educational games once had to produce engaging and enlightening games that teach real thinking, not just rote learning. The most famous example of its use in the pursuit of science is probably Foldit, a protein folding game that helped solve a major problem in disease research. Jane McGonigal is the most widely cited game designer arguing that games can be used to help solve large-scale social problems like climate change.

2010-04-01 10:35:01

The Selfie

Whenever a phenomenon, even a long-standing one like pics on the web, is given a name, it encourages the thing to grow. So it was with the concept of the "selfie." While the term "selfie" can be traced back to 2005, and the posting of self-portraits online goes back much further, the real era of the selfie takes off in the 2010s by which time 1/3 of all pictures shared by cellphone fit that description. While often dismissed as narcissism (and that surely is part of its appeal), the selfie also reflects an era where increasingly identity is felt to exist only when shared digitally. While selfies appeal to all genders, a far greater proportion of selfies are of girls and women. Many critics believe the genre deepens the objectification of girls and women, reinforcing the "male gaze" in which males look while females exist to be looked at. Others have countered that for some young women online self-portraits can be empowering.

2010-10-04 01:37:22


Instagram created a mobile photo- sharing platform that made it easier than ever to move images and videos around the world with a simple click. Its importance is as a contributor to a longterm trend where an increasingly visual digital culture of pic and videos seems to be largely effacing written words.

2011-07-04 01:37:22


The idea of images and messages that would appear, then disappear, through a self-delete function, found its social media form with Snapchat. While perhaps most (in)famous for encouraging 'sexting,' the platform has a wide selection of features and uses. Users have the illusion that their images disappear forever, but as with all things digital disappearance is a relative concepts. Snapchat pics still exist in the hidden wastelands of digital space, and can sometimes be embarrassingly made to reappear.

2012-08-12 01:37:22


The term "sexting" gained something like official cultural recognition in 2012 when it was added to the Merriam- Webster dictionary. The term had been around since at least 2005, and circulating widely for a year or two before 2012, but that is as good a time as any to note its arrival as a "thing." While the sending of explicit sexual images was hardly new, the arrival of apps like SnapChat, WhatsApp and Kik made it so much easier, and gave the illusion of relatively safety in that apps like this promised the image would disappear soon after it reached its target user.

2013-04-01 10:35:01

The Internet of Things

The concept of the Internet of Things refers to the more direct integration of the physical world into computer-based systems in homes, vehicles, businesses, and in the human body itself. The term dates from 1985 but it is in the second decade of the 21st century that the term becomes widely used, and widely recognized as an expanding phenomenon. IoT includes a wide variety of "smart objects," devices that can be remotely controlled over a digital network. This can include things like smart homes where lighting, heating, and other features can be controlled remotely. Self-driving vehicles tied into a traffic monitoring system are one popularly cited use. Or health monitoring devices networked to a physician's office or hospital. The latter includes devices worn on the body, but also include another deeper level of invasiveness, the implanting of sensors in the individual body. Some of these smart devices use sensors that make automatic adjustments, others leave the adjusting to human decision making. A major concern about the IoT is that it well enable increased surveillance and open more processes to invasion by malicious hacking.

2013-06-05 10:35:01

Edward Snowden Revelations

In June of 2013, Edward Snowden, an intelligence officer under contract to the US government, released a large cache of documents revealing the extent to which the US and it allies were illegally spying on foreigners and their own citizens. The documents also revealed that telecom companies (like Verizon) and electronics corporations (like Google) were complicit in massive surveillance programs, including many not authorized by official policy. The leaks led to charges of espionage against Snowden by the US Justice Department, and set off a major debate about his status as either a heroic whistleblowing patriot or a traitor to his country. Whatever his status or motives, the revelations unleashed a vitally important political conversation about electronic surveillance by government agencies. Snowden remains active in work to limit such surveillance while in exile in Russia.

2014-08-04 01:37:22


GamerGate is a controversy ostensibly around the ethics of computer game reviewing whose main impact was to lay bare the considerable amount of misogyny in the digital game community.

2015-04-01 01:37:22

The Cloud

Cloud computing has been around for decades. But the term "the cloud" became widely popular around 2015 or so (yes, I know, this is a 'cloudy' way to put it). With no exact starting point, let's just say that the idea of storing one's personal files not on one's own hard drive but rather in this nebulously named space became increasingly common after the first decade of the 21st century. The misleading term somehow suggests your data just floats around in some kind of magical space. But in fact all this really means is that your data is stored in some other physical place (a giant mainframe server) owned by an ever more gigantic corporation.The cloud space is not free; you are directly or indirectly renting from the corporation. The notion of the cloud is yet another way in which the physicality of the digital realm is hidden by terminology, just as cyberspace suggested an image of users just floating in the ether. The Cloud (as Apple Inc. likes to write it) is actually many clouds (stored on various mainframes). While cloud owners will tout their greater security, compared to your home computer, or smart phone, cloudsters should be aware that they may actually be further compromising their privacy on several levels, because advertisers may purchase access to your data (especially given legal changes under the Trump administration) and because electronics corporations are subject to hacking at least as much as your personal digital devices.

2015-04-26 01:37:22

Net Neutrality

A concept coined by Professor Tim Wu of Columbia university, net neutrality argues that government policies should prevent large telecommunications cartels (like Comcast, Verizon or AT&T in the US) from discriminating against smaller internet service providers by offering their own products at faster rates than those of competitors. Under net neutrality, for example, an ISP cannot get paid by a firm like Netflix to slow down other competing streaming movie services. Net neutrality keeps large corporations from fully dominating the Internet, allowing ordinary users to access a broader range of content. Net neutrality became official US policy in 2015 under the Obama administration, but is currently under assault by the Trump regime.

2017-04-01 01:37:22

Assault on Net Neutrality & Privacy Laws

Under the administration of US president Donald Trump a number of laws and regulations protecting internet privacy began to be undermined or repealed. In March of 2017, Congress passed legislation allowing ISP (internet service providers) to sell users personal information to advertisers. Trump's appointee to the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) has outlined a clear agenda of deregulation that favors the largest telecom corporations and will largely end Net Neutrality, while also allowing them to further intrude on the privacy of US citizens.

The Evolution of Digital Culture

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