Fraser Speirs: “Future Shock”


Fraser, in the words of John Gruber, “gets it”.

“The tech industry will be in paroxysms of future shock for some time to come. Many will cling to their January-26th notions of what it takes to get ‘real work’ done; cling to the idea that the computer-based part of it is the ‘real work’.

It’s not. The Real Work is not formatting the margins, installing the printer driver, uploading the document, finishing the PowerPoint slides, running the software update or reinstalling the OS.

The Real Work is teaching the child, healing the patient, selling the house, logging the road defects, fixing the car at the roadside, capturing the table’s order, designing the house and organising the party.

Think of the millions of hours of human effort spent on preventing and recovering from the problems caused by completely open computer systems. Think of the lengths that people have gone to in order to acquire skills that are orthogonal to their core interests and their job, just so they can get their job done.”

Read the full article here.

Something like 30 years ago I saw my first Lisa. My brother-in-law bought one because he got that with its release the computer paradigm radically shifted. I remember playing with it and trying to get my head wrapped around the new metaphor.

Back in the day when I was actually doing software development for fun, one of my students lent me one of the first Macintosh computers for a couple of months. What I thought I had glimpsed in the Lisa, I experienced fully in the Mac.

I got my start in computers programing Z80’s in hex assembly code. I remember how exciting the Apple ][ was – color and a built in basic interpreter. My first real computer was a used Apple ][+ and my first really useful computer was a Mac Plus. That Mac got me through graduated school and seminary. What I loved about that Mac was it kept me from frittering away my time tinkering behind the scenes with the computer and more focused on actually getting stuff done – like writing papers, creating documents, etc.

I find the same thing today with my computers. I really like my MacbookPro – but because it has a for real Unix foundation, I’m constantly tempted to muck around with it. For me this is fun, but it’s not really getting any work done.

For most of the people I work with, mucking around with their computers is not fun. But it’s necessary. And it’s not getting any real work done.

That’s why this new class of devices is so interesting. It moves us toward the appliance computer. Which is what cellphones really are, and I think, what makes them so popular. Most people just use their phones. They don’t tweak them or jailbreak them. You can if you want, but most don’t. Because it works well enough to get the job done and doesn’t require you to count on the good offices of a tech guru to get you out of a jam.

Apple’s been moving in this direction for years. I think as Speirs writes above, the rest of the industry either gets what just happened – or they miss the point and are talking about the iPad as big iPod. It’s the other way around. The iPod is a little iPad.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. Paul Martin says

    I am glad that there are more than one vision of the future of computing. The world would be poorer without Apple. As much as I hate to say it, the world would be poorer without open architectures, as well.
    The modern scientific laboratory and the modern semiconductor fab (to cite just two examples) would be much poorer without open architectures. You can buy a card to put in your computer that does fast data acquisition. There are optical spectrometers that fit in a PCI slot. You can take the other approach and put a computer in your instrument. None of that would be possible in the sealed boxes that Apple provides.
    I’m happy to celebrate Apple’s vision. I think it is a big step forward for a lot of users. I am just glad that there is more than one vision out there. I don’t think anyone is smart enough by themselves to figure out what the future holds.

  2. Paul Martin says

    John Gruber has been linking to a lot of interesting commentary. Take a look at this for instance.

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