I had a come to jeebus moment yesterday. My coworker asked me “When did the first tablet come out?” I was sure that tablets have been available since the mid 90s. What she was really looking for was the first mass produced consumer tablet: a la iPad. Off the top of my head I answered “Probably 2005 or 2006.” A quick jaunt over to Wikipedia proved how wrong I was.
The first iPad came out in 2010. Three years ago. It feels like tablets have been around forever but in just three years they have dominated the computer market. Now people are predicting the death of the traditional personal computer. They may be right.
I took my first computer apart in the mid 80s. I built my first box in the early 90s. Since then I’ve joined the competition over storage, processor power, RAM, and graphics. The dust has settled; power, speed and space is now battling over portability.
Speaking of which, I recently signed up for a Netflix account on my smartphone. I’ve been using it to watch reruns of Star Trek TNG. I noticed that the tech in the show now looks modern (maybe a little dated) instead of futuristic. As a teen in the 90s I dreamed of a wondrous future with portable and powerful computers. Who knew I only had to wait about 15 years?
In this regard, I am the 1%. Most of the minerals and materials used in the manufacture of my smartphone were harvested by people in the third world with little access to electricity and sanitation. Developing countries would rather spend money on cell towers than roads or sewer systems. Why? Wireless tech is easier, cheaper, and is attached to multinational corporate dollars. Who cares if a child slave helped build my smartphone.
It’s easy to get lost in the latest and greatest gadgets. I geek out about the speed and power of a new consumer electronic, but I constantly need to remind myself to take a step back and look at the realities of my technology. Only 1/5 of the world has access to email. Less than that actually owns a computer. Even less have reliable internet. I am forced to admit I’m extremely privileged to own and be educated in the use of modern technology.
Technology is another item that is increasing the divide between rich and poor. Wealthy schools can afford iPads and programming courses, while low-income schools barely have machines running Windows XP in a 10 station computer lab. The digital divide is one more way my privilege separates me from the margins of society (those who are poor and less educated).
Because of this I feel motivated to use my technology not just for enjoyment, but to help make the world a better place. Demanding my electronics be made Fair Trade; supporting legislation that protects free speech; donating to organizations that use and distribute tech to communities that need it most.
The challenge is to not let myself get sucked into the time sink that gadgets can become. Instead of creating and advocating, I browse Facebook for three hours. Or I spend 10 hours playing Civilization instead of going outside and working in the garden. Or I watch 5 episodes of Star Trek TNG on Netflix instead of taking the dog to the dog park. I am horribly guilty of letting technology take over my life.
As much as I love the internet and consumer electronics, I recognize their potential for evil (i.e. disconnect from RL relationships, ignoring of family/social responsibilities, etc). I look back and see how much time I’ve wasted playing when I should have been learning/working. I struggle between laziness and motivation with my fingers paralyzed on the keyboard. I want to be more of a user, rather than an abuser, of my privilege and not slip back into the blissful soma of technology.
Some days are better than others…