Thursday, September 20, 2012

Pick-up trucks & personal computing

There once was a day when executives had desks without computers.  Then, we thought a desk was strangely empty without a PC on it.  Soon, computers other than laptops and tablets on desks may seem odd again.

Now that the PC era is officially over (fewer than half of memory chips are now used in PCs), and HP is going back into smartphones, and, mobile computing is seriously challenging established business giants, like Intel, Microsoft and Google, according to a New York Times report, I've been thinking about our relationship to the PC, those computing workhorses, or 'pick-up trucks,' as Steve Jobs called them.

Like pick-up trucks, many of us will keep one (desktop PC) around.  In fact, most homes will have one for some time and offices will no doubt keep some form of workstation for a long time to come.  I mean, let's face it, big screens are great and who can really speed type on a touch surface?  As much as I love my iPad, I feel a bit silly pecking on it when I actually learned to touch type in high school and still count it as a key skill for a professional research writer.

When the day comes, I will probably keep my last desktop machine.  I still have my first PC, a Macintosh Plus, which has pride of place on my campus office bookshelf, top left, where the most senior ancestor goes in Chinese culture, I am told.  (I also have an 'ET' Mac sitting on my file cabinet, just because it looks like art--they used to be in MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art in New York.)

Like old pick-up trucks, my Mac Plus was there with me throughout my PhD years, dozing beside me for those four-hour nights that were all too routine.  Our love of smartphones is profound, but it simply follows our love for machines, like pick-up trucks and personal computers.  Indeed, we love our smartphones because they are so 'personal,' like old pick-ups and the early PCs. And, like old pick-up trucks, desktop machines will be there for awhile, quietly sleeping on our desks, while we are mobile.

On another prosaic note, there is a great TED Talk by Andrew Blum about a squirrel eating his Internet, which led him to explore how the magic of the Internet is still delivered in a simple material manner around the world.

Note: The only new 'car' we ever bought was a 1984 Ford Ranger pick-up and our current truck (called a 'ute' in New Zealand) is a 1987 Nissan Navarra with a King Cab, so I know a little bit about new and old trucks.

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