Empty machines

Once again, I’m writing this blog post late, but not after Tuesday. I’m actually on my phone right now. I use a Samsung Galaxy S5. I’ve been waiting for the Google Pixel to be announced, and it was announced earlier today. For some reason, it was underwhelming for me.

Why might that be? Well, I can compare the excitement of functionality to the excitement of functioning. What I mean by this can be illustrated like this: it will always be more exciting to anticipate what you’re going to do and to do it than it will be to be able to do it incrementally better.

When the Amiga came out, the company my dad worked for at the time bought it, and he asked if he could take it home one night. He was able to, and proceeded to stay up all night playing with it. He was so excited by the possibilities that he didn’t even go to sleep.

I think of that story and compare it to now. If my dad were to buy a new computer now, he wouldn’t be nearly as excited as with the Amiga. I just know it. Computers by themselves today just aren’t that interesting; to some, at least.

Why else would there be a video online of “Older Computers Did It Better” and whole communities of retro computing and retro gaming enthusiasts? I must say my underwhelmed feeling has not been unique to Google Pixel’s announcement, yet I find something oddly intriguing about my Commodore 64. I don’t exactly have a feeling of nostalgia or sentimental times for the C64, because I wasn’t even born when the machine was at its height. It’s something else.

The thing that classic computers and classic games do better than those of tday eludes me to some extent, but I do feel that it has to do with personal connection. There was no real internet when millions were using the C64 every day, or the ZX Spectrum in the UK before that, yet these people were mesmerized by what they could do with the machines.

Is it just because it was such a new idea, personal computing? I don’t think that’s really the whole thing here; otherwise there wouldn’t be people like me finding those computers so interesting and being bored with some of the latest technology. Sure, the historical significance is cool to a point, but that doesn’t last long. There’s something else about these retro computers and retro games that is different.

I feel a sort of emptiness when it comes to computing today. I can’t help but think it should have gone in the other direction from the early days of personal computing, especially since the use of computers all day every day is so pervasive in society now. Perhaps that is actually part of the problem, though. 

It’s not as much “personal” computing now as it is societal computing. I’m certainly not suggesting purely isolated terminals is the future, but I am saying that with all the technological progress we’ve made, we sure haven’t progressed in the terms of many other things, including productivity, which makes me think there’s something not quite right about how we’re using that technology.

It’s a problem not so much with the progress in technology itself, but the application of that technology to our lives. Something about the use of computers today doesn’t seem to me to foster individuality or expansive imagination in the same way it could be doing so.

What might be the solution to that? 

…Until next time,