Monday, March 2, 2015

All We Can Know Is The Future Will Be Different

As we get older it is a humbling experience to recognize how often we are wrong in our predictions - yes, even THC.

To remind us is a 1985 article by Erik Sandberg-Diment asking "whatever happened to the laptop computer?" in which the author makes several pronouncements:
For the most part, the portable computer is a dream machine for the few.
The limitations come from what people actually do with computers, as opposed to what the marketers expect them to do. On the whole, people don't want to lug a computer with them to the beach or on a train to while away hours they would rather spend reading the sports or business section of the newspaper. Somehow, the microcomputer industry has assumed that everyone would love to have a keyboard grafted on as an extension of their fingers. It just is not so. 

Yes, there are a lot of people who would like to be able to work on a computer at home. But would they really want to carry one back from the office with them? It would be much simpler to take home a few floppy disks tucked into an attache case.  

Software is the real weak spot for laptops. If the machines were merely too expensive, especially in view of their limited display, they would still sell if they served an unbeatable function. But for that to be the case, special software would be needed. The word processing and spreadsheet packages commonly available for them are intended to accomplish tasks to which laptop computers are simply not well suited. 

But the real future of the laptop computer will remain in the specialized niche markets. Because no matter how inexpensive the machines become, and no matter how sophisticated their software, I still can't imagine the average user taking one along when going fishing.  
THC has quoted Mr Sandberg-Diment at length not to make fun of his predictions but as a reminder to himself and others that some of our predictions will look pretty silly in a few decades.

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