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The British newsweekly the Economist has a special report entitled, “Nomads at last.”

I very strongly recommend you read the whole article, but in a sentence, it says that mobile computing is already making radical changes in life- and workstyle possible and will have huge across-the-board sociological impact.

The article focuses on sociology rather than technology, but I think the point that needs to be made here and now is that while technology can create new sociologies, at some point, the new sociologies take the driver’s seat and drive the technologies.

We forget that the personal computer has already had a few lives. The PCs of the eighties were essentially glorified typewriters/calculators, office machines for an office environment. Useful enough, but had they stayed that way, they never would have had anywhere near the impact they did have.

Why? Those machines were essentially deaf-and-dumb. They couldn’t hear nor talk to other machines easily. It wasn’t until the Internet made the PC a very glorified telephone, a tool that could hear and talk (OK, write) well and cheaply, that it became a mainstream device, something that you didn’t have to have a terribly strong reason to buy.

While the PC was turning into a glorified phone, the phone itself was getting some glorification itself by yanking out the wires. A century-old critical business and technology has been crippled and will wither away as the old and inert pass away.

Can there be any doubt today’s desktop PC is yesteryear’s phone?

It has been impossible not to notice people’s desire for mobility the last few years, even when it makes little sense for the person or situation. More notebooks than desktops have been sold in the U.S. the last few years, the narrowing worldwide lead of desktops is mostly due to cheaper desktops being sold to first- or first-few-buyers in Asia. Among old-time users, the trend is relentlessly to mobile.

Personally, I’ve had plenty of, well, immobile people ask about notebooks even when such a notebook would never leave the house or a power socket or get near a hotspot. More recently, anyone visiting a notebook forum will find loads of gamers hellbent on lugging their genocide generators around, even though they pay far more and get far less than if they bought a gaming desktop and a non-gaming laptop.

Why? It’s not really about mobility, it’s about freedom. People have been known to sacrifice a lot for that.

We’ve thought for a long time that at some point we would hit the “enough” point, and from that point on, future technological advances would turn inward, turning the desktop into a dinosaur.

I think we’ve hit that point.

What does that mean? It means that the technological impetus will go elsewhere as the new paradigms take over.

It’s important to note that the new paradigms are often a direct contradiction to the old ones. Computing power has stopped being a general good in-and-of-itself. Today, it competes against and often loses to other priorities. Tomorrow, it’s going to be almost an anonymous afterthought, enough to make communications possible, and that’s it. We’ll go from Intel Inside to I Dunno What’s Inside. Do you think the average owner of a BlackBerry, an iPhone, knows what CPU is running the show?

If mobility and permanent connectively are the critical elements for those buying tomorrow’s computers, GHz and FPS become unimportant, and wireless broadband speed and network coverage will take their place.

What I’m trying to say is that the desktop is an idea whose day has come and is going. It is fighting against freedom, and freedom is bound to win. The desktop won’t go extinct immediately, they’ll still have some advantages for a while for normal folk, and will always be better for some fairly sizable niches, but over the next decade or so, the old big square box will look more and more like a rotary phone to the average (and especially young) person.

The momentum, the future is no longer going to be more of the same. The world is going elsewhere.

Ed


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