The Legend of the PC

Presenting a Child - Share on OviA short story of a future where our PCs and mobiles are mere legends, but their lessons endure…

I was happy to see my grands in the flesh. Despite the distance, and the fact that they travel a lot more than I ever have, we’ve managed to stay in contact with each other through her implant and my ocular goggles. I could imagine this when I was younger, but clearly communication isn’t what it used to be.

They sat down in front of me, while their mother – my daughter Amanya – brought out some refreshments. They were used to my stories, and this time I got to be in front of them live. This would be fun – reminding me of those spoken word stages I used to enjoy in my youth. Their stages are similar and different. How will they take the lessons of my past and apply them to a future they’ve not yet dreamt.

I started by pulling out my phone. It has been many decades since it worked, and I’d be lucky to even find someone who would publicly charge the lithium-ion power supply. But there’s still nothing like the N95. Ocular goggles, wands, or even cybernetics just didn’t have the same feeling as a mobile. But those were affections for my generation to remember and forget, they’d have their own relics to wax poetic over in time.

I continued from where I left off the last time we talked…

…I was at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2007, sitting in the midst of many international journalists, bloggers, and marketers. As every CES show has seemed to have since forever, Microsoft’s chairman gave the keynote. Bill Gates (you should have seen their eyes when I mentioned his name) came onto stage and demonstrated his ideal working day. There were screens, devices, and talk of software and possibilities that were “just around the corner.” And per every Microsoft presentation, something didn’t work just right. But, I was happy to be in the moment.

And then I looked to the row behind me and saw it, there was someone with a Nokia N95 passing it around. There was nothing like this mobile. Already released in the rest of the world, the N95 had everything. 5 megapixel camera, GPS, Wi-Fi, you name it. That mobile was packed. And there I was distracted. ADHD fully set in, head on a swivel wondering how I could get closer to that hallowed device. The owner noticed me staring at the mobile and quickly put it back into his pocket. If I were going to get a chance to play with that device, it wouldn’t come from him.

After the keynote, I would accompany my fellow editors to several parties and eats. We went to one event where we got a preview of some of the devices that would be introduced. I was stuck on two makers – everything else was non-essential – Nokia and Palm. All I needed was a few minutes, and I’d have the perspective that I came there for – whether or not the PC was going to stick around.

The buzz in the air about whatever Apple would do was thick. You couldn’t go to any spot on the floor without questions about Apple. I even took the trudge to the Nokia exhibit – an entirely different building – and many of their staffers were tuned into Macworld. And then it was like a collective gasp – the iPhone was introduced. You could have actually heard the gasp on the main floor of CES. People weren’t just surprised, but folks were even talking of leaving CES for “the real show.” Yea, it was clear, the Treo in my pocket, the N95 I was straining my neck to see, and the newly announced iPhone were the future of computing…

My grandson interrupted, he was confused. A student of history and anthropology, he questioned why people didn’t see that the PC would eventually shrink to that size, with divergent use cases being the platter for computing that would be served. Certainly, that’s not the case today, but back in those “olden times” people had to see that mobile phones were PCs. I had to explain to him that while he was right, and there were some who were saying just that, the popular and marketed opinion was that mobile is something different from PC. We moved into the great room and on the table I opened up the Library of Congress’s archives so that we could see the progression.

Then he spoke up again. He noticed that more people started to get that personal computing was indeed the case with smartphones, but then something else started happening, it became less personal. “Grandpa, in our time we make a choice as to who has access to our information, and its seems like this was possible when you were younger. But, why does it seem that people were so careless with their personal information, and later (pointing to 2021 scenes) that they willingly gave up that freedom. There’s nothing personal about that computing – its socialist.”

He realized the weight of the transformation of technology that took place during my lifetime. We didn’t have the benefit of knowing what would happen, and we didn’t take advantage of the wisdom from other media streams. Computing for us became something that was barely a personal experience, but definitely a case of computations taking the place of interactions.

I responded, “we used to believe that because the essence of humanity wasn’t being taken from us, that it was still personal computing. But then in small pockets, then larger ones, we realized that our very experiences were being curated for us. The only place where we had some semblance of being a person was in faith and philosophy. Many people willingly placed their kids in this non-personal stream not realizing that they’d later not have much control over the personal lives, let alone the opportunities of serendipity. Yes, we messed up. Its better to some degree now. But that’s only because we somehow have managed to wrestle the personal back into computing.”

My daughter comes into the room and announces that their time with me is done. I wish that I knew that so many years in a car would leave me in a state where I could mentally and physically only take small bites of interaction from my very flesh and blood. I literally inhaled so much bad air that the air that I breathed out was unhealthy to them in large doses.

But they got the message. Personal computing is just as much a part of the computation as the data they glean and the moments they want to create. For me, the iPad was my canvas, for them, they can draw on the world. The PC is truly a legend for them. For me, it was the hope that I held onto for as long as I could – a hope for a world that was better than what I inherited.

This piece inspired by the current ‘post-PC’ discussion.