Did you know we are now on the brink of a "Post-PC" future? The boring old desktops and laptops are on the decline, say the tech gods, to be replaced with iPads and smartphones and an infinite number of slick little devices. This is going to suck.
While introducing the iPad 2 on Wednesday, Steve Jobs used the phrase at least a dozen times. ("Apple's third post-PC blockbuster") And it's a tribute to Apple's marketing wizardry, and the to extent to which the tech press is under its spell, that a slew of articles have now appeared declaiming an entire new epoch of computing: The "post-PC" era, heralded by the iPad.
Sounds cool. But what does "post-PC" mean? It's more than just a tablet. If you are a geek, "post-PC" is shorthand for what you believe a computer would be if it were designed by the Infallible Hand of God (i.e. Steve Jobs): impeccably designed, impervious to viruses, seamlessly integrated into every facet of daily life. "In a post-PC world, the experience of the product is central and significant above all else," gushes Joshua Topolsky at Engadget. "It's not the RAM or CPU speed, screen resolution or number of ports which dictate whether a product is valuable; it becomes purely about the experience of using the device." Gadget nirvana.
But to normal people, who just use technology instead of weirdly fetishizing it, the Post-PC era is a matter of posture. Where we previously sat in an office chair to use PCs, we splay on sofas while tapping out emails on our tablet. Or we walk down the sidewalk checking the weather on our smartphone, sometimes falling into open manholes. The Post-PC era heralds, "all sorts of 'connected companions' that we'll wear, we'll carry, we'll use on our desks and walls and the environment all around us," said former Microsoft visionary Ray Ozzie.
The new options of computing postures are liberating, say the Post-PC evangelists, more in tune with our workaday lives. (You can even check your Facebook wall posts on your car!) But at what price, freedom? If everyone is splaying while post-PCing, then the things made for consumption on our post-PCs will be implicitly tailored for people who are splaying. And they will likely be made by people who are also splaying, on their own post-PCs.
This is OK for watching movies and reading books. But have you ever tried to write something intelligible, while splaying? And while being zombified into a mental five-year-old by the seamless physics of the iPad's touchscreen, and the idiotic tapping required to type? (There's a reason why babies love post-PC devices like the iPad, but would rather vomit on a Macbook Pro.) If I wrote this blog post on an iPad 2 while splaying on a couch, it would read something like: Yoooooo…. writing this on mah new iPad 2, biatches.
Post-PC devices are gaining on us. While traditional PC sales growth slows, Apple is projected to sell 40 million iPads this year. By 2014, it is projected that one-in-five Americans will own a tablet computer. Someday I may even buy an iPad to shut up my yet-to-be-born baby when she cries.
But a Post-PC era? When that comes, I'll be sitting bolt upright in my office chair as the world crumbles around me, pounding cumbersome physical keys on my malware-ridden laptop. Miserable, back-aching, but lucid.
[Baby on an iPad photo via Flickr/UMC Portal]