For most of the 20th-century changes in sports, and the world at large, generally occurred at a slow and steady pace. There were plenty of monumental advancements, but no single decade was ever unrecognizable from the one before. And then came the '90s.
If there is any technological innovation that demonstrates the supercharged pace of change these days, it has to be the cell phone, and, by extension, the Internet. In 1989, just over three million people in the U.S. had cell phones. By 1999, that number had climbed to over 86 million. Today, it stands over 300 million.
Which means, in just two decades, we've gone from "what the hell's a cell phone?" to 91 percent of the population owning one and unable to remember how to function without it. There's a whole new generation coming of age who have never even existed in the world before cell phones and public WiFi.
This fast and furious pace of change is reflected all over the sports world. From innovative new stadium design to the game-day apps on your smartphone, advancements in technology are constantly reshaping an ever-changing landscape.
Let's take a look at some that are on the not-to-distant horizon.
It's amazing to see how much sporting venues have evolved in the last few decades. Buildings like the Pittsburgh Penguins' Civic Arena and the New York Mets' Shea Stadium were once the stadiums of the future, and today, they're long gone.
Every year, old relics are being replaced by stadiums so spectacular that their designs would have been dismissed as science fiction in the '80s. It seems that each new stadium is bigger, better and more unthinkably luxurious than the one before it.
It won't be long before the Cowboys' billion dollar stadium becomes the architectural equivalent of the Razr cell phone.
OK, so the future of NASCAR may not be the Cadillac World Thorium Fuel, which apparently is supposed to last 100 years without gas or maintenance. But then again, maybe it will.
Outside of computers, phones and other technological gadgets, there are few things that have been changing, as long and as rapidly, as automobiles. We went from horse-drawn carriages to the Model T to the tricked-out luxury vehicles of today in just over 100 years.
It's only been five years since NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow, and it's already the car of yesterday, having been put out to pasture in 2012. Who knows what the next decade holds for race cars, let alone the next century. I certainly can't wait to see.
In the last 15 years, the Internet has transformed from an entertaining novelty to an integral part of the modern existence. Which is why it's a surprise that public WiFi is still not available at most sports stadiums and arenas.
Part of the delay could have to do with the obvious difficulties that come with tens of thousands of people trying to access a wireless connection. The connection at my local coffee shop slows to a crawl if more than a handful of customers are online.
That hasn't stopped everyone from trying. Eight NFL teams already have stadium WiFi, and Patriots owner Robert Kraft said he expects all stadiums in the league to follow suit by 2015. Commissioner Roger Goodell hopes this will help boost attendance, which has been on the decline for five straight years.
At this point, people just expect Internet access everywhere. Ask the guy in that photo—there really is nothing better than a day spent at the ballpark, watching your favorite television shows!
I think it's been pretty well-established that the idea of a concussion-proof helmet is just a myth. However, it's very possible that the right technology and design will be able to reduce the risk.
The impact of head injuries, particularly in football, cannot be understated at this point. It's a problem that has been growing in scope in severity with each passing year.
It's so bad that the future of the game is in jeopardy if they don't find a way to combat head trauma soon. Helmets aren't the only way to address this concern, but they are certainly one of the most obvious.
In 2012, the Riddell 360 was already being used by a few college and pro teams, and early results have showed promise. Which is very good news because there are a lot of other problems that need to be solved, and this may be the easiest.
Marty McFly's hoverboard in Back the the Future II is one of the most enduring and coveted fictional sports swag in history. Granted, I'm not sure how much fictional sports swag actually exists, but there's definitely some.
As amazing as the hoverboard was, for the last 30 years, it's been nothing but a dream. Today, it remains a dream, but if Dominos is using an army of enslaved robot drones to deliver pizza, how far can we really be from a hoverboard?
In early 2013, the Open Source Hoverboard Project announced a plan to make it a reality by 2015. Unfortunately, they've raised just $2,000 to date, which is just a tad short of the million they are seeking.
Eventually, someone in a better financial situation will hop on board this idea. Someone get Mark Cuban on the phone!
In August 2011, it was reported that an engineering collaboration had developed the "epidermal electronic system," thanks to funding by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Air Force. Smart skin is an electronic platform that lays on the body like a temporary tattoo.
At 50 microns thick, which is less than a single strand of human hair. And it's so lightweight that it can remain bound to skin for hours without the aid of an outside adhesive. When applied to the throat, an early prototype showed the ability to distinguish speech based on muscle movements, without speaking aloud.
The smart skin will be in the developmental process for years to come and the early applications of these artificial muscles will be biomedical. However, eventually this will carry over into the sports world and could completely redefine the idea of natural human ability.
Not long before the British economy bellyflopped into the proverbial toilet a few years ago, the Venture Xtreme surf centre was in its early-development stages in East London. Unfortunately, the economic difficulties put the project on the scrap heap, and the centre has been looking for a new home ever since.
It's only a matter of time before it finds one in London or somewhere else, because the plan looks absolutely amazing. Venture Xtreme will offer "perfect surf waves 365 days a year" and attract over a million people annually. But if surfing isn't your thing, they've got you covered.
If climbing is your thing, they'll have a massive man-made wall with 50 climbing routes. If swimming is your thing, they'll have a pool. If sitting on your ass is your thing, they'll have a beautiful white sand beach. And if drinking is your thing, they'll have a bar!
A bar in London? I'm sold. The best drinking destination in the world is about to get even better... eventually.
I worked at a beautiful golf course for a few years as a teenager and can personally attest to the joy I felt cruising the grounds on a beautiful day in my oversized snack cart that lacked the proper horsepower to properly carry the extra weight. It was a slow ride, but driving that cart never got old.
It's probably good that my snack cart sucked, because if it was anything like the cart Mercedes-Benz unveiled the design for at the 2013 British Open, I could still be working there. The "Vision Golf Cart" is a luxury concept car that looks like it was pulled straight out of a video game.
Mercedes replaced battery power with solar panels. They swapped out the steering wheel in favor of a joystick which allows driving from either side. And they added amenities like an iPhone docking station, touch-screen operated sound system, heated seats, air vents and an awesome button you can push that yells "fore!"
Recently, the San Francisco 49ers updated their official team app with two new features that you never knew you needed but, eventually, you won't remember how you ever lived without.
The app will now give fans the ability to check the line situation at concession stands and bathrooms, allowing them to choose their destination based on the shortest wait time, or temporarily shelve their plans while waiting for conditions to improve.
No more fidgeting in a ridiculously long line, frantically checking your smart phone for updates on the score!
Remember: A failure to plan is a plan to fail.
If there's anything worse than waiting in a time-sucking long line for a $12 beer at a stadium, it's deciding to wait around for an obnoxious concession guy who may or may not ever come.
Even if he does come, he may not even have any beer. He could just have peanuts and hot dogs. And even if he does have beer, you still have to scream like a psycho just to get his attention.
Then, even if you do get his attention and do get your beer, it's a massive pain in the butt to get him the money and get your brew. It usually involves a lot of other people forced into working with you—if only to shut you and the concession guy up.
The 49ers are working on a feature for their game-day app which includes a beer delivery system. Fans will be able to pick the beverage of their choice and some stadium runner will run and fetch it for them. Look for it when Levi's Stadium opens for the 2014 season.