The dusk of the computer age

This was originally posted on my old, defunct Tumblr

Some have argued the iPad is the dawn of a new era. Oh wait, that was me, three days ago. But in another respect, it is the dusk of another, representing a return to the past when people did what they wished without worrying about their computer.

From O’Reilly:

The automobile went through a similar evolution. From eminently hackable to hood essentially sealed shut. When the automobile was new, you HAD to be a mechanic to own one. Later, being a mechanic gave you the option of tinkering and adapting it to your specific interests. In fact, that’s how most people up until about 1985 learned to be mechanics. The big changes came with the catalytic converter and electronic ignition (and warranty language to match). Now the automobile has reached the point in its development where you don’t even have to know whether it has a motor or an engine to use it, but to tinker at all requires highly specialized skills.

Is this really so bad?

Here’s the point: there is a lot of hand-wringing about the iPad being a closed platform, even as people acknowledge the advantages of that (everything just works, no viruses, etc.) What is clear though, is that it is geeks doing the handwringing. Which makes sense in a way. It really is the end of their era. But for everyone else, those people for whom a computer is a necessary accessory, but not their life, what the iPad portends is a future where the computer fades away, leaving only the art.

Consider photographers. Today’s photographers are among the most computer-savvy people in the world, but by necessity, not by choice. Computers are simply an essential component of modern photography, and if that means understanding things like RAM, cache, and the difference between 32-bit and 64-bit computing, then so be it. But the second revolutionary aspect of the iPad is the way it transforms a computer into an appliance, where what happens under the hood is indeed magical. No, iPad 1.0 will not be a photographer’s computer, but iPad 4.0 just might. All that matters is that it edit photos, or display pictures, or capture text, NOT that it be “open” with all the good and bad that implies.

A photographer wants to photograph.

A writer wants to write.

A grandmother wants to see pictures.

A teenager wants to chat.

Only a geek wants to hack.1

The iPad is the first of a new paradigm that will free people to do what they want, what they were meant to do, with a tool meant to aid, not frustrate.

I think that’s pretty awesome.

  1. I self-identify as a geek, but diverge on this point: I am interested in technology to the extent it can solve normal people’s problems, and much less interested in technology for technology’s sake. It’s a slight but crucially different point-of-view [↩︎]