I have always been a tech enthusiast, in the sense that my interest in computers and what they could be used for was a hobby. I've never taken a single computer class, or had a job where knowing much of the basic operations of a computer was necessary. It has never come naturally, and every bit of knowledge I've acquired about computers was hard won.
What has become increasingly clear is that technology is far more accessible to the average consumer. Duh. In 1999, I was virtually the only one I knew with a laptop, and I had to order it from out of town. Ten years later you'd be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't have one, and you can buy them in some of the same places you can get a loaf of bread. Governments around the world are grappling with a divide quickly occurring in almost every major culture. They all are wondering how to get more of their citizens online, faster, and safer.
This technology shift has been fifteen years in the making, coming like an avalanche. In 2007, I was pretty sure I could write my books, send my stuff out to publishers and eventually get... well, published. All it would take is patience and diligence. In 2010 I seriously question the merit of seeking a publisher. All the publishing tools and aggregators are accessible by anyone willing to learn how to use and deal with them. Anyone with a little money, some time, and a modicum of desire could write a book and publish it online.
The same thing is likely true of almost any would-be creative professional.
What about the banking institutions, publishing firms, network television, and all the balding old men that used to dictate to us the content we could distribute and consume? They also used to dictate the means by which we would do the same. The internet, every day, builds a new wall and tears it down again. And yet, they might still find a way to put one over on us as the young try to replace the old. Like life itself, the state of the internet today will change forever tomorrow.
HP wants to put it's newly acquired WebOS on your Printer.
Facebook wants to invade and broadcast every element of your online activities.
Apple wants to change the way people use the computer at the most fundamental level.
Google wants to do the same, only better, out of pure spite.
Asus thinks Netbooks are the short term future for mobile computing devices.
I used to tell people you don't need a computer, you can get by just fine without one. They are merely a convenience and not a necessity. I've lived to the precipice of the moment where I will actually have to eat those words. In every inquiry my wife has made about getting a good paying job at a library, she'd been told knowing a programming language (HTML, XML, etc) would help. In the creation and promotion of my books, I keep coming to the same conclusion. I'm going to be better off doing it online, and doing it myself, writing the code by hand or finding a program that will do it for me.
Learning to use a computer has become more than just a casual means to procure information. It is quickly becoming the substance of our culture, and knowing how to use a computer is as much part of a person's civic responsibility as garnering a drivers license or paying taxes. There will always be accountants and chauffeurs we can pay to handle things for us, but average joe citizen is always better off figuring these things out for themselves. Why pay someone to do what you can do for yourself?
Yeah, I think someone who wants to be a bus driver their entire life probably could do just that. They could probably slide through life never writing a line of code, opening a single email message, or backing up a single document. At least until they're replaced by some guy that can control an entire network of busses from his touchscreen tablet device. The future looms large, and I hope that there is a new computing revolution that brings everyone tech savvy and otherwise into the same world.
Most people I know live in relative terror of the internet, their own computers, and the programs they use everyday. There has to be a better way than every family or social group having a single wizard, a lone person tech savvy enough to operate a computer with confidence. I really don't know what the answer is, but most of the computing industry thinks it isn't a failing on the part of society or people as individuals. It is the way computers were designed in the first place.
Computers were built and designed to be used by the people who ... built and designed them. That's a pretty small percentage of the population. It's like every manufacture who makes jeans, only putting out a size that fits their CEO. What the heck are you going to do? You have to find a manufacturer that's close, then tweak the jeans so they'll sorta fit. I mean, what are you going to do? Wander around without any pants on? This is exactly how I felt every time I bought a computer up until very recently.
When I went into the Maclife store with my Dad and Grandmother to buy a couple of iMacs, there wasn't anyone sitting at the Macbook Pros, Macbooks, Mac Pros, or iMacs running a traditional desktop OS with a cursor driven interface. You had to wait in line if you wanted to play with an iPad though. No one asks me about my Macbook Pro when I open it up in a public place to work. When I layout my iPad and begin typing furiously on it for my book, total strangers wander up to me demanding to know what I'm doing and how I'm doing it.
The tech world scoffed and made more than a few jokes about Apple referring to the iPad as "magical". To the very abundant and casual users of a 7-8 year old Dell laptop who happens across me using my iPad at a random coffee shop? Absolutely, their faces would be pretty much the same had I pulled a rabbit out of a hat. They know it isn't magic, but heck it didn't seem like it. That the device has an accelerometer and other contrivances that help re-orient the screen? Eyes bounce wide open like I'd made a jetliner disappear.
It is clear to me the direction the casual person who needs a computer for email, surfing the web, watching movies, and so forth is going to go. Then I found an article the other day a guy wrote on how he works his IT job carrying only his iPad. I don't think anyone has a crystal ball now that the standards of computing interface have been shattered, rewritten, burned down, and rewritten again.... all just in the first half of 2010.
I challenge anyone who reads this to learn to do something with their computer they couldn't do yesterday, and again tomorrow, and again, and again.