summing up 82

summing up is my recurring series on topics & insights that compose a large part of my thinking and work. please find previous editions here or subscribe below to get them straight in your inbox.

When We Invented the Personal Computer, by Steve Jobs

A few years ago I read a study – I believe it was in Scientific American – about the efficiency of locomotion for various species on the earth. The study determined which species was the most efficient, in terms of getting from point A to point B with the least amount of energy exerted. The condor won. Man made a rather unimpressive showing about 1/3 of the way down the list.

But someone there had the insight to test man riding a bicycle. Man was twice as efficient as the condor! This illustrated man's ability as a tool maker. When man created the bicycle, he created a tool that amplified an inherent ability. That's why I like to compare the personal computer to the bicycle. The personal computer is a 21st century bicycle if you will, because it's a tool that can amplify a certain part of our inherent intelligence.

i just love steve jobs’ idea of comparing computers to a bicycle for the mind. so much actually, that i used it in my talk the lost medium last year. we humans are tool builders and we can fundamentally amplify our human capabilities with tools. tools that take us far beyond our inherent abilities. nevertheless we're only at the early stages of this tool. we've already seen the enormous changes around us, but i think that will be nothing to what's coming in the next hundred years.

Teaching Children Thinking, by Seymour Papert

The phrase “technology and education” usually means inventing new gadgets to teach the same old stuff in a thinly disguised version of the same old way. Moreover, if the gadgets are computers, the same old teaching becomes incredibly more expensive and biased towards its dullest parts, namely the kind of rote learning in which measurable results can be obtained by treating the children like pigeons in a Skinner box.

there is this notion that our problems are easily being solved with more technology. doing that we're throwing technology against a wall to see what sticks rather than asking what the technology could offer and who that could help. papert is talking about education, and even if that is a vital part of our society, his thinking applies to so much more.

The Computer for the 21st Century, by Mark Weiser

The idea of integrating computers seamlessly into the world at large runs counter to a number of present-day trends. "Ubiquitous computing" in this context does not just mean computers that can be carried to the beach, jungle or airport. Even the most powerful notebook computer, with access to a worldwide information network, still focuses attention on a single box. By analogy to writing, carrying a super-laptop is like owning just one very important book. Customizing this book, even writing millions of other books, does not begin to capture the real power of literacy.

Furthermore, although ubiquitous computers may employ sound and video in addition to text and graphics, that does not make them "multimedia computers." Today's multimedia machine makes the computer screen into a demanding focus of attention rather than allowing it to fade into the background.

computers should fit the human environment, instead of forcing humans to enter theirs. especially mobile computing is a major paradigm shift, but right now we're becoming slaves of our own devices. weiser puts out some very interesting ideas on how computers could integrate in our environment and enhance our abilities there.