Funny What Shapes Our World

Ever since I put together my new desktop and spent time haunting hardware forums and reading online magazines that review hardware, I’ve been a bit fascinated by all the breathless announcements that tablet sales have surpassed pc sales. As I’ve said before, I find the comparisons between the two a bit ridiculous. It would be like comparing the sales between tractor trailers and bicycles. Finding that the manufacturers of tablets want to convince me that I want one is unsurprising because, of course, they’d like to sell them. Why there are people who write things saying that tablets are the way of the future, so get used to it, puzzles me.

The way of the future. The future, they say, will be touch, or, better yet, gesture. We all know the various gestures, first made commonplace with the iPhone and now having spread to tablets and laptops. They say that the gestures were taken from the movie Minority Report. In it, Tom Cruise works in front of a transparent screen, waving his arms. You can see his face – so much more interesting than the back of someone’s head. I liked the movie a lot. The director, Stephen Spielberg, spent time consulting with professionals in various fields to create a future that looks believable. Between the government trying to prevent crimes before they happen and the technology it portrays with screens all over, it sometimes seems like one of the most prescient. The computer interface that Tom Cruise employed in the movie was designed by  John Underkoffler, who was told by Spielberg to make it look as if Cruise was conducting an orchestra. That’s much more visually exciting than watching someone typing at a keyboard and reading a dense screen of type.

Whenever I see someone give verbal commands to their phones, I think of Harrison Ford in Blade Runner reclining on a sofa saying, “Enhance,” to his computer. As he finds something in the picture on-screen, he leans forward.

Anyone who has ever seen their profession portrayed in a movie has probably laughed at the contortions directors go through to make banal work dramatic. Most of us, in our daily lives, do not look like movie stars, and that’s not only because we are not as beautiful or handsome or buff. When we concentrate on work we sit with our shoulders hunched over, or leaning our head in our hands which squashes our faces in unflattering ways. From the candid photos in gossip rags, we know that movies stars don’t look like movie stars most days.

So, I’m amused by the fact that the new interfaces for our tools appear to have been shaped more by a need to make characters in a movie look exciting than with the ostensible purpose. Thankfully, writing was invented before the movies, or we all would have been doing our math homework by writing on the window like Russel Crowe in A Beautiful Mind.

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3 comments
  1. Well said.

    I need a new computer, and I’m not interested in a tablet. I am a visual artist, a writer, and I handle my business finances. I guess a tablet is supposed to help all these things like a PC or Mac but . . . seriously?

    • fojap said:

      Understood. One of the reasons I put together my own system for the first time recently was because I use it for visual arts. I started as a regular painter years ago mainly working in oil on canvas. I’d been working on a large “desktop replacement” laptop and I just wanted a really big screen and lots of computing power. Beyond that, I use my computer for programming, so I wanted a comfortable keyboard.

      If you want to venture into putting together your own, let me know. It’s much easier than it sounds and there’s a lot of people on the internet that like helping.

      The only way I could see a tablet being useful for me, and it would still be as a secondary, or even tertiary, device, would be as a sketch pad. Wacom makes a stylus that allows for pen pressure, but right now only a handful of devices are compatible with it.

      • And that’s why I didn’t bother buying a Wacom Intuos tablet a decade ago. It was tempting but only that.

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