Computer Pants

Every once in a while an article sweeps across my desk that I feel needs some commentary. You may not agree with what I have to say or even care to listen but sometimes I just can’t keep my mouth shut.

Embedding sensor and computing technology into everyday items has been a fascination of mine for many years.

The idea that the computer is an extension of our existence and not a tool that we consciously need to invoke is becoming a reality whether you realize it or not.

In all likelihood, the less you know about technology the less likely you are to notice, or even care, that technology is working it’s way further and further into our lives. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not here to tell you to be afraid, just the opposite, I am here to tell you sit back and let it happen.

An article in ExtremeTech about embedding tech into our clothes brought me back to an argument I had 10 years ago with the board of directors at a school that my children attended. I had been asked to help set up a computer lab and to help establish guidelines for the use of computers in the classroom.

My position was, and remains, that the computer is a tool, nothing more. It can help us achieve goals but it is not an end in itself. This flew in the face of the “educators” that were convinced that starting in grade 1 children should be taught the skills of “keyboarding and mousing” because they would need it when they were older to survive in the technology age.

I put forward a number of arguments against this position that basically fell on deaf ears:

  1. Kids will pick it up naturally, why devote class time to something they will learn as needed, spend the time working on core skills like multiplication and spelling.
  2. People need cars to get to and from work. Driving is an essential skill but we don’t teach it until kids are 16, why would keyboarding be any different.
  3. By the time these kids are in their 20’s the computer will have changed so dramatically that any skills they learn today will be next to useless.

It was this last statement that totally flustered them. They could not envision a “computer” without a keyboard and mouse.

My argument was that computers will be embedded in everything; touch screens, voice recognition and new input devices would make the keyboard and mouse obsolete.

Needless to say I lost the argument, but the projections are coming true…which was not prescient on my part but a fairly obvious extension of everything I had observed in my 30+ years in high tech…obvious to me anyway!

Think about it, the iPhone contains more computing power and memory than desktop computers from 10 years ago. The first PC I worked on in 1985 had 640K bytes of memory and one 5 1/4 inch floppy drive that held 512K of data. My phone…let me say that again…my phone…is 1000s of times faster and has 100,000s of times the memory capacity.

It is hard to imagine which direction technology will go but it is easy to predict that it will shrink and become much more embedded into our lives. My kids can type faster on the thumb pad on their phone than on a keyboard at a computer. For that matter they can type faster on the computer than I can, even though they have never taken keyboarding and have only been typing for 10 years as opposed to my 35.

Voice recognition is getting better and better every year, soon manual entry will disappear all together. (all the funny, incomprehensible, voice-generated texts I get from my friends aside)

Interestingly enough it will be the children of today that dictate what technology is used to access data in the future, not because they are going to invent it but because they will do it…they will decide if it is the most convenient way to access information…they will be brutal in their adoption and rejection of technology.

No amount of hype will make them use a technology that is not slick and easy to use.

Get used to it, technology is becoming more and more embedded in our lives, and it will become harder and harder to tell where it is and what it is doing!

Have Fun!

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