Not at all technical. This post is more about how society relates to computers.
As mentioned the other day, I’m looking into buying a new computer. It’s a major expense for me, so I’m going to do a lot of research first. I’m not very oriented towards consumerism in any walk of life, so, although I consider myself someone who loves technology, I don’t buy gadgets simply to have the latest coolest thing. Also, I don’t keep up on marketing trends. I don’t read about the latest hardware, drooling over what I will buy in the future. So, once every three to five years, when I find I need a new machine, based on my own changing needs, not on what’s on the market, I wind up having to educate myself about what’s happened in the computer industry.
When reading about the technology that’s out there I came across a variety of articles that wrote about larger trends. Quite a lot of it focused on the decline of the desktop pc and the rise of the tablet. The tablet, as everyone agrees, changes the way we relate to the computer, making it more of a consumer item. The tablet is a closed box. It’s something you buy as is.
It’s ironic that the company most responsible for turning the computer into a consumer item, taking it beyond the realm of hobbyists and tinkerers is Apple, a company that got its start in a group of hobbyists and tinkerers. Meanwhile, today’s hobbyists and tinkerers fear that their fun will come to an end as more computer items get sealed up.
Despite all the push towards smaller, easier and more mobile devices, what I’ve been jonesing after myself is a desktop computer with a nice big monitor, maybe even two, and a comfortable keyboard. Apparently, I’m not the only one out there with this desire. In an article in PC Magazine one of their regular writers said,
Just imagine the type of machine that could be built for $2,500, not to mention $3,500; it’s the exact machine that power users cobble together themselves.
He then goes on to describe a powerful desktop machine with three monitors.
Though this three-monitor power user configuration is quite common in the real world, I have never seen it sold as such. Dell, HP, or Lenovo will never advertise this configuration because they’ll tell you that people want laptops and tablets and that will be the end of it.
In my own experience, this set up is indeed common. People choose different tools for different purposes. I don’t especially want an iPad because there’s not enough that I want to do with it to justify the cost. However, I can see why other people want one. In advertisements the world seems to be full of good-looking people who work by running down Manhattan streets while shouting into their phones. In reality, much in the world is accomplished by plodding people sitting at desks.
The interesting thing is differentiation. Years ago, the desktop did everything because the desktop was all there was. If all you wanted to do was send emails to your nieces and nephews, you did it on a piece of equipment that didn’t look very different in external form than the computer an architect used for CAD drawings. Now, a desktop seems like overkill if all you want is email and the web, but I don’t think civil engineers will do their work on a phone. These other computer users won’t go away.
Neither will the hobbyists and tinkerers. There are a lot of forums out there where people discuss building their own PCs. From the activity there, it seems to be a hobby that’s alive and well.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I’m going to be building my own PC. If this is interesting to anyone, I’d be happy to put up posts describing what I’m doing. I’m new to this, so the posts would probably not be very technical, plain English translations of technical matters.