For as long as there have been computers, there has been a need for data storage, both internally and as a portable medium. The digital divide closed so rapidly in modern societies that it is easy to forget that just 20 years ago, desktop computers were the only option, and they were running hard drives with around 25 megabytes of capacity. Just ten or twelve years ago, 256 MB of RAM was considered top of the line, and a 60-gig hard drive was pretty much standard.
Climbing the Ladder
Portable data storage was equally limited. The 3.5″ floppy diskette – which wasn’t really floppy, the way its predecessor was – could only hold so much, so major projects meant using multiple diskettes. Zip drives were popular for a short time, as they held more data than a floppy, but proved to be no more than a speed bump, as compact discs made them unnecessary (and necessitated no small amount of data transfer). Those who chose not to move their files had to buy plug-in ZIP drives to use their files on their new, Zip-less computers.
Finally, the USB flash drive made data storage and transfer convenient and universal, and is able to keep up with the leaps and bounds of today’s (and tomorrow’s) machines. Some USB flash drives can hold as much as a terabyte of information – substantially more than the average laptop’s hard drive. Moreover, the flash drive evolved in ways that its digital ancestors had not – it became a cultural statement, with USB flash drives taking every shape and form imaginable, from flashlights to pocket knives to ball point pens.
The ubiquitous USB port has also eliminated other once-promising industry ideas, such as the SCSI port; pronounced “scuzzy”, it quickly went the way of the Zip drive after being hailed as the fastest way to connect external devices like scanners and printers. But it was never going to expand the revolution they way USB did, leading as it has to newer and better media devices (such as the iPod), including the ultimate interaction between devices: The computer and the smart phone.