Who needs a computer anymore?

People have iPads now. It’s pretty cool.

I hear a lot of people talking about how they’re just inches away from not needing a computer anymore.

“This tablet is all I really need. It’s only a matter of time before blah blah blah”

Most of your day must be writing or reading then, and if so, that’s awesome. My wife’s a writer. If this were the past, you’d be arguing that a clean desk and a little paper are all you need.

You know, something like this

Or maybe just a chair and a good book.

Like this guy

I dig it. But it has nothing to do with tablets. We all want The Simple Life™, but some people are just engaged in kinds of work which empower that a bit more than others.

Now obviously tablets are useful for a lot more than just reading and writing. There’s just not much they’re better at than, say, a lightweight laptop, other than being a bit more portable.

But does having a thin sheet of metal and glass that approximates what a full-size desktop computer could do not a decade ago mean that it’s all you need now? Does a car only need to be as powerful as a horse? Or a home only solid as a thatched-roof hut? If so I have a wolf you should meet.

The reality is that for many people, work and creativity involves a wide assortment of tasks and materials, not all of which can be dumbed down to a device the size of an indie zine, accessed in a rigid, linear fashion.

Nobody thinks about just one thing at a time. What’s “a thing” anyway? It’s not an app, that’s for sure. But I digress.

We get work done on tablets because a lot of time, it’s what we have on us. Just like I’ve done an insane amount of work from my phone. The best computer is the one that’s with you, after all. While you’re pooping.

But look at Steve Jobs up there at the top of this post. Or actually, here:

Classic

Now I’m not saying he couldn’t consolidate some of what’s going on in this photo into a well-stocked iBooks library and some cloud storage. But who wants to consume it all through a tiny little paperback-sized peep hole, one page at a time? There’s speed in having everything at your fingertips, and I don’t mean the 30 seconds it takes to go back to my home screen, swipe over for a new app, wait for it to load, navigate to the thing I want, press and hold to select, copy the text, fast-app-switch back over to where I was before, select where I want to paste, etc …

I spread out because when information is already in front of me, it’s faster to use. It’s not just me. People abandon websites if they take more than 250 milliseconds to load, after all.

There was a lot of hate directed at Fox News recently (unheard of, naturally) about a new TV set with some giant touch screens.

How can something be so cool and so tacky at the same time?

But at least they’re embracing the fact that information is big. Thought is big. Work is big.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m deep into a project I’ve got as much information at a glance as I can manage, and as much space to work on my tasks as I can afford.

In fact, most people, when working on projects where the importance justifies a certain cost, do the same:

Monitoring an electric grid
Managing a mission in motherfucking space
Controlling a nuclear reactor

I’m sure the capabilities of tablets will empower a certain kind of person to reduce and simplify (just like Kindles empower a certain kind of person to read more). And certainly this will be more pronounced as technology continues to advance, and screen size is less important than just good AI.

But for the rest of us, more is better. Sometimes even the three screens on my desk isn’t enough. And I know I’m not the only one.

Eventually, displays will be so cheap that you can spread a handful of tablets out on a table like you would a few books, roll out a nice big whiteboard-sized one for the group to use, or just tell the paint on the walls and tables to be a screen for a bit. And when that happens I think it’s safe to say we’ll have left the traditional “personal computer” behind.

But until then, we’ve got work to do.

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Born yesterday

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Justin Ruckman

Justin Ruckman

Born yesterday

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