Ed Burnette of ZDNet asks a question that I suspect will commonly be asked (but from a slightly different perspective) in the workplace setting over the next five years or so.
It fits with the moves towards cloud computing, social computing, and the accessibility of much what constitutes the raw materials for knowledge work via mobile devices and / or from several different geographic places at the same tiome.
Work, increasingly, doesn’t happen where your computer is … "work" happens (or can happen) in that fuzzy space somewhere between the back of your skull, the interactivity-supporting platforms you use, and the images and text that are on whatever screen is in front of your face whether interacting with information or another person (or both).
Ed casts the issue from a user perspective, and not necessarily from a workplace perspective, though it’s pretty easy to imagine and extrapolate.
Installing and uninstalling and maintaining anything on the desktop (be it Windows or Mac or Linux) is hard, and more and more people won’t bother. Why? Because there’s a better alternative.
Another way of saying this is, the browser is the new desktop.
Case in point: My wife has been complaining lately that her “computer was slow”. She’s running Windows XP on a Dell machine, so first I checked out the usual suspects. Viruses? Nope. Spyware? None found. Crapware? Already gone, from the day after we got the machine. Startup programs?The browser is the new desktop. Removed a few but it didn’t help. I started the task manager, but saw nothing suspicious. No processes using CPU or disk I/O. But still, she said it was slow.
So I watched what she was doing. She brought up the browser to check web-based mail on gmail.com. She used google.com to search for something for our kid’s classwork. She went to cartoonnetwork.com and webkins.com to play games with the kids. And so forth. Notice a pattern here? Everything was in the browser. It was the *browser* that was slow, not the computer. In her mind, the browser was the computer.
The problem turned out to be too many plug-ins in the browser. She had a Upromise plug-in, a Google toolbar plug-in, a Real media plug-in, and a bunch of other plug-ins I didn’t even recognize. I turned it all off, restarted the browser, and poof, “the computer” was several times faster. Cue fanfare.
I don’t expect the desktop at work will die any time really soon, although it will be interesting to watch the situation unfold. There have been a number of technologies move through our North American and western European organizational lives pretty quickly, actually … electric typewriters, calculators, fax machines.
. R. Barsalo, SAT
I’ve always found the above graphic interesting. Each of the small human figures represents a generation .. you’ll notice that at the start (in the top left-hand corner – the little generation icon is white. That first figure represents humankind’s invention of language. Them, things don’t change, generation after generation … oral transmission of language is how we distributed and used information beyond keeping it inside our senses and head.
Attention, change alert ! About 300 generations ago (notice the icons change to light grey 30% of the way along the fourth row from the bottom) humans invented writing and the use of symbols. Then, again, things didn’t change much generation after generation (in terms of a physical-cognitive perspective of input, processing and output of information) until only 35 generations ago, when the Gutenberg printing press was invented and came into widespread use.
The bottom right-hand corner of the graphic shows 7 differently-coloured icons, each one representing a new source or channel for information reception, transmission and the processing we need to do whenever we use whatever medium it may be that we are using at a point in time. All the new modes and media have occurred in the past 100 years or so.
The point of this graphic is that for a long long time our cognitive intake and processing capabilities (the way(s) our brain works with information) had plenty of time, over many generations, to adapt to changed modes of information flows. It’s most interesting that as all these new methods have come (and to some extent gone or changed), the workplace and the formality with which information and knowledge have been treated have been increasing … until recently. In keeping with the interconnectivity of the web and the accelerated (and accelerating still) flow of information coming from the interconnected environment, we are hearing much more about the organic nature of creating and using knowledge enabled by social computing tools and services.
It will be interesting to see if it will take another generation or not before work is just one of another cognitive tasks we all perform whenever and wherever our attention is directed to a specific need or issue .. for information, for response, for decision-making, for action … and it mainly takes place in the constantly looping invisible "space" screens, the seeing and hearing information, and the processing in our brain into some form of output, an action.
However … first we shape our tools, then our tools shape us. The beginning of the transition from desktops, and from both physical and cognitive habits in terms of how we interact with, shape, use and distribute information has been (for better and / or worse) shaped significantly by the other transitions of the past 100 years pointed out above. We still take in information, by and large, in structured forms and ways .. it’s only recently that people have been asking deeper questions about what (for example) is a document and what is not a document. Please remember, for the vast majority of us we’ve only had hyperlinks to play with for maybe a decade. The horizontal movements and use of information and knowledge, in self-generated and self-supported feedback loops beyond face to face oral conversation is new for all of us.
But when our kids and grandkids will be in the workplace … ?
We don’t need no steenkin’ desktops. But I’ll bet they’ll be around for a while yet.
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