After Mac: The Next 30 Years of Computing

| Particle Debris

This week we look back on 30 years of the Macintosh. It's an essential celebration, great for reminding us how we got here, instructing us in our relationship to technology and inspiring us for more. And along those lines, what will the next 30 years be like?


When I think about the future of computing, I see linkages, technical spans that lead from from one phase to another combined with social upheavals at every step.

For example, the first Macintosh introduced the mouse, a totally new concept in computing. It was so novel, Apple left cursor keys off the keyboard in order to fan the flames of adoption. There was initial resistance, but we soon learned its advantages. In a similar fashion, the way we touch and handle a modern tablet departs from the legacy, physical keyboard. (At least for companies other than Microsoft.)

I think there's a tendency to assume that future revolutions will be benign and fun instead of painful at first. So, when we cry out for innovation, we have to be careful what we wish for.

Wearable Computing. Soon, that will be just a euphemism for computational devices that integrate closely with, perhaps inside our bodies. Smart watches that we wear externally will eventually be tied into our minds and body chemistry. It won't take too long for capsules with wireless communications to reside in our bloodstream and digestive system and relay information about our state of being to our visual field.

In turn, that will precipitate a war between advertisers and the makers of the hardware. The donut store flags us visually as we drive by and the sensors suggest our blood sugar is low. Then the health app kicks in and reminds us that we better not do that. It's just the next version of TV ads for pizza causing late night runs to the refrigerator. Today, our mental watchdog cries out, "Don't do it!" Who (what) will do that in the future?  Will renegades operate with jailbroken minds?

The Visual Field. I don't think it will be too much longer before the need for physical display devices goes away. The next step beyond Google Glass is to generate signals from a small device that our optic nerves pick up and then overlay that information on our visual field. The need for handheld display devices and giant 60-inch pieces of heavy TV hardware will go away. Sit back, relax in a recliner, close your eyes and watch Star Wars XV with all the resolution your brain can absorb. Alternatively, call mom and her image will be floating in your visual field, a kind of super FaceTime.  Your eyeball is your camera, recording everything.

The Work Force. The ability of talented people, with the aids above, to plug into the cloud of humanity, correlate data, create new things, weave visual stories, build ads and adventure games, will lead to some uncomfortable new metaphors and challenges. Not everyone will have the talent to operate in the new cyberspace, and they will resist it. Modern governments, of course, want everyone operating there so citizens can be monitored and a life history recorded on exabyte storage. Anyone who resists on religious grounds will be suspect, and they'll find it hard to find profitable work. 

Right now, we're in the early stages of being made very much aware of what other people are experiencing in weather and other calamities via Internet tools like Twitter. In the future, the social integration will become an even stronger force, and the consequences for social change and government can only be imagined. I imagine, someday, I'll look up and to the right and see a pulsing blue light: one of my readers is desperate to open a video stream and chat about my latest article. (Please, I'm having lunch now.)

The upshot is that technological advances in health, vision, entertainment and interpersonal communication will benefit us, but they won't come without pain and acclimation. Young people will grow up knowing nothing else. The rest of us, mostly writers, will probably grumble on as we hunt around in dusty antique stores trying to replace our old and broken but beloved Apple keyboard.


Tech News Debris for the Week of January 20

One of the most enduring memes in the Apple world is the notion, by journalists, of what Apple must do to survive. As I recall, one of the things that got me started in this business of writing about Apple was MacWeek, a weekly tabloid from the 1990s. I admired Don Crabb (rest in peace Don) and Henry Knorr, but it always irked me when they insisted that they knew what Apple just had to do -- or disaster would ensue. (Hey, sometimes they were right.)

And so I was greatly pleased to see this accounting by Harry McCracken of all the things we told Apple it just had to do. It's a great read. " 'Apple Must...': A Brief History of People Instructing the Company to Do Things ...and why it rarely does."

I have never been a big fan of Yahoo. It always seemed to me that there were other more important places to be and things to do than hang around Yahoo. But I also assumed it has a loyal following, and so I just moved on, letting other people do their thing. But then I saw Brian S. Hall speaking the unspeakable, and I have to give him some credit for saying the Yahoo King has no clothes, at least in my view. "Is Yahoo Even Worth Trying To Save?" What do you think?

I think a corollary to the sometimes painful transitions into future technology mentioned in the preamble above is to think deeply about what technology can do to seduce us.  For example, it's all too easy to text and drive because carriers make money when we text, and so it's heavily promoted. (Even though the carriers must formally tell us not to drive and text.)

How and where we exploit technology is actually a serious decision. For example, how and why would we wear Google Glass? By that, I mean it's assumed that we always make conscious decisions about how we use technology and what the consequences might be. But what happens when we don't? Sad tales, that's what. This is very instructive: "CONFIRMED: Man Interrogated By The Feds For Wearing Prescription Google Glass At The Movies."

The demo.  Your experience may vary.

Can one extrapolate that the days of coaxial TV cables and satellite dishes will go the way of morning milk trucks, typewriters and Betamaxes? It think a good case can be made for that, and it's only a matter of time before all TV is delivered wirelessly or on the Internet. "The race is on to launch an internet TV service in the US."

In full science fiction mode, I playfully ask, how would you like to receive your Amazon package before you order it? Ah, not possible you say. Let's be more modest. Perhaps it can merely be shipped before you order it. Ah, now that's doable. "Amazon Wants to Ship Your Package Before You Buy It."

Will it be possible for security protocols on the Internet to evolve faster than the Internet itself is evolving? Assuming they can be designed and paid for? Stacey Higginbotham inquires, "The internet of things needs a new security model. Which one will win?"

Jonny Evans just keeps cranking out the good stuff. You'll smile as he recounts the myriad of times observers have declared Apple to be road kill. Have fun with, "Apple's Macintosh: 30 years doomed."

Finally, Leander Kahney has provided a magnificent article on the early days of iPhone development. This is must reading for Particle Debris fans. "The Birth of the iPhone." It's an excerpt from Mr. Kahney's book "Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products." I can't wait to read it. On my iPad Air, of course.


Digital eye and virtual touchscreen via Shutterstock.

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Now stop giving me future fears, John. I can see the headlines: “Hackers cause massive rush on restrooms.” Or perhaps: “Google charged with violating privacy rights” as their latest “BrainDroid” chip is found to be sending user’s thoughts back to their servers. I could go on for pages worth of wacky or serious things that could go wrong with future tech. But I am probably not going to live long enough to see it. No! I don’t want Apple’s future “iLive” biological clock cells injected into my system even though their batteries are
guaranteed to last 500 years.


I thought the future of computing had already been meticulously laid out as early as the 80s by Star Trek Next Generation.  And if you look at current developments, that’s where we’re headed.

As to your dystopian vision of the future, I hope not Mr. M.  Imagine some hacker (government sanctioned or otherwise) planting stuff in your visual field to manipulate your behavior or worse, to drive you insane.  But I think people writing about a dark tech future actually help head it off by warning us about it.  So write on, sir.

I think the younger generations’ willingness to get tattoos coupled with their more relaxed attitude about privacy could easily evolve into a willingness to plant all sorts of permanent sensors and monitors in their bodies.  Certainly our government and the private industry are not doing anything to discourage those tendencies.

When Big Brother takes over, it will only be because we welcomed him with open arms.

Ha! I can do dystopian too.

Gareth Harris

Grim, John,
and yet we can all see some things coming:
Computing speed goes up by a factor of 1000 more soon,
powered by satellite power stations replacing burning things as an energy source.
then by another thousand [yes, that’s a million].

This power enables large scale pursuit of complex organic chemistry,
the death rate approaches zero, population skyrockets for the wealthy, then class war and political calamity occurs,

Devices become even smaller and
Maybe your local Apple iCloud node fits in your ear,
Along with physical displays, typing disappears, maybe even audible speech,
as it is all on the network.
The network becomes more ubiquitous and a at least a thousand time faster,
The singularity approaches ...

how bout that ... I see your surveillance and raise you a dystopia ...



Time for just one observation. There is a common thread between Harry McCracken’s piece on ‘Apple Must…A Brief History’, Brian Hall’s take on ‘Is Yahoo Worth Saving’ and Jonny Evan’s ‘30 Years Apple Doomed’. That thread is this; the reality of a thing, its nature and its value to humanity, is known by its effects, its fruits, if you will.

Many people get discomposed over even the most blatant and transparent propaganda against something they value, believe in or cherish. The 30th anniversary of the release of the Mac provides an opportunity to pause and reflect back upon a chain of not only progressively great products, and since SJ’s return to Apple in 1997, an internal cohesion, consistency and consolidation around the theme of creating a coherent array of products and services that define an ecosystem, but equally and perhaps more importantly, a gathering client-base of not merely satisfied but enthusiastic consumers of Apple products.

This latter phenomenon has flummoxed Apple’s competition and their fan base, to the extent that you can call it a fan base. In my opinion, they comprise less of a fan base for competitors than an anti-Apple league of the disenchanted, so focussed are they on denigrating each and every one of Apple’s successes, but I digress. Most of the competition envy this level of support, so much so that they and their supporters, pundits amongst them, have taken to casting aspersions at Apple’s client base, disparaging them as ‘Macheads’, ‘Mactards’, ‘Fanbois’ [sic] and other epithets depicting clients as fanatical and indiscriminate worshippers and consumers at the alter of all things Apple, while other competitors not only openly ridicule Apple’s customers for their demonstrated enthusiasm (e.g. queuing for the opening day of product refreshes - not even new products), but surreptitiously sending journalists and camera crews to interview and study them to better understand what Apple have that they do not (yes, Samsung, I’m talking about you).

The only reason for this boorish behaviour towards customers, commingled with the steady onslaught of anti-Apple propaganda, is the utter absence of such enthusiasm, implicit or demonstrated, for the competition or their products. It’s not that they haven’t tried; MS have even suggested people hold Windows release parties, while Blackberry depicted scenes of very happy people using their Playbook tablet (supposedly aimed at the enterprise sector) for personal enjoyment, and Google illustrating cross-sectoral joy of users for their Chrome offerings in cinemas, and on and on. To no effect, mind you, and therein lies the rub and hence the defamation of the Apple company and client alike.

The effects, and therefore true value and worth, of thing, however, is not determined by the opinions of its critics (or anyone including supporters), however strident, but by the impact it has on people’s lives, and their recognition, however gradual, of those benefits. Once recognised, it is the nature of people to return to those things that benefit them, and should those things be a joy to use in addition to being beneficial, it is also in the nature of people to become genuinely enthusiastic about their use. Mere marketing gimmicks and self-flattering propaganda by a company cannot suffuse a large and growing client base with the illusion that they enjoy a product over a sustained period, let alone across three decades. That does not comport with, nor is there a precedent in, human consumer psychology. That it doesn’t work that way, one only need ask Yahoo, Blackberry, MS, HP, Dell, Samsung and a host of others.

Thus, all of the criticism and advice from the press, pundits, punters and pontificates, whether well intentioned or ill, and their predictions of disaster for failure to comply with their dicta, amount to no more than the rantings of doomsayers who predict the end of the world because they said so. Reality is impervious to opinion.

The proof is Apple’s current status. Despite their predictions to the contrary, Apple has doomed its way to dominance not only in market, mind and profit share, but value as a company in every way that is meaningful, and shows every sign of continuing to doom its way to prosperity well into the future, and with it, a loyal and enthusiastic client base. Happy 30th, Mac.

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