Means and Ends

When I was younger, like in elementary, I had a science book that had a definition for technology. Now to my mind back then technology was those big, bulky machines with lights and spinning tape or the then new desktop computers you’d see.

But the definition I got for technology was any device or method that made a job easier or reduced steps. Now that was paraphrasing but I think you get the point; technology is a tool to make it easier for you to get something done.

That definition and that memory has been something I’ve thought about often when reading and discussing consumer technology. Lately I have been thinking about how much the idea of technology as an end unto itself affects how we view technology. I bring it up because I think there is this change in computing that is happening and the majority of tech enthusiasts poo-poo it because it doesn’t match their idea of pure computing. I also think that a lot us tech geeks overemphasize the importance of computing gadgets (phones, tablets, and PCs).

As much as I enjoy discussing computers in all their myriad of forms I’ve been coming to some realizations about them and how their used. First there is no such thing as “real” computing. When some discusses devices like the iPad or the Surface 2 they try to differentiate from a laptop or desktop by saying it’s not a “real” computer. I have done this myself when talking about Chromebooks. I put modifiers and asterisks when I talk about the device; I’ve even done this when people ask me if a tablet is a PC.

We keep putting in these dividers between smartphones and tablets or between devices that run on ARM or Intel chips because we want to distinguish lines between devices that consume or create. All this misses the point that all these devices ARE computers, they are all used to get work done in one form or another.

The second realization is most people want to just use a device and don’t want to tinker 24/7 with it. Or let me put this another way, Computers are the new cars. We keep for long periods and we don’t go under the hood unless something is seriously wrong. I don’t think people are against fixing their PC but they are not as raring to go into the BIOS or hack a ROM as the people who post on AnandTech.

For the vast majority, the computing device is used and that’s it. And this population of users is the new majority not us, them.

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