Personal Computer – Is it still personal?

15 06 2006

Here is something that was sparked by an ad I saw for HP – the idea of reinventing the personal computer – bringing it back to square one. Some background on this was that in the older days – computers were gigantic machines which would take exponentially long times to process huge math programs and were used by large companies/graduate studies as a means of experimentation. It was only with the influence of companies like Xerox, Apple and the small company up in Seattle that applications began to be created with a personal computer which could be used by the common man.

The question arises today on whether we have come to an age where computers have become such a large part of our life, that it seizes to be personal. Rather it becomes a part of our life, a component that is necessary for our everyday lives and activities. This post is not really a test on how we use computers and whether it is necessary – but really how the computer has changed in terms of usage and such.

I think it is necessary define the parameters before delving into a problem in order to get a better understanding of what is being addressed in this post:

  • computers are becoming ubiquitious – everyone has it and the definition of a computer is a bit hazy. I use computer in a broad sense which is all inclusive of internet connectivity.
  • The question is, would it still be considered a computer if you have an email device/smartphone PDA device. Ultimately, these are meant for internet connectivity and are predominantely used for remote email access

The question now that we ask ourselves is how has the usage of the computer changed since the internet was first invented. We went through one phase of the web in which we surfed the internet, used email through software clients and ultimately had a distinction between internet connectivity and software usage. With dial up speeds, it was a task to use the internet.

As we've progressed from that point onward, a lot has changed. Broadband internet connectivity has demonstrated that whereever we are, we can be connected to the internet. Ultimately, this caused the movement of web 2.0, a vague term coined to demonstrate that the internet is changing and the way that we use it will as well. This means the following, any machine can become literally personalized with content specific to the user. You can already see this taking place with Google, Microsoft and other websites. Personalized content is one of the hottest sectors in internet technology today.

This brings us to the question at hand, if everything is become personalized on the web, what is left for each of us on our personal computer. Pretty soon we'll be able to store most of our files on a shared server, everything will be available again via the internet and all uses of the internet which is specific to us can be done from any computer around the world with a broadband internet connection. With the Wi-Fi revolution panning out as planned, pretty soon we wont even need a wire for most of this. Is the computer still personal, for the time being yes….but in a couple of years, probably not.

If you've been watching TV recently, HP came out with an advertisement about this with famous rap mogul Jay-Z and the different facets of how he uses his computer. As a means of catering to a wide audience, they attempt to show how the HP computers can do a variety of activites rather than simply niching themselves into one market (like Apple with media). Their tagline – making the computer personal again. I thank them for giving me the inspiration to question this statement.