Sunday, November 03, 2013

Annals of Technological Progress: When did it become assumed that everyone has a laptop computer?


by Ken

Since this is going to rad like another diatribe against Technological Progress, I'd like to start by stressing that this truly isn't what's meant, and the best way I can do that is by quoting part of a New Yorker "Briefly Noted" review (in the Nov. 4 issue) of a book called Smarter Than You Think by Clive Thompson:
"Thompson is not a tech acolyte, and is skeptical of "the giddy boosterism of Silicon Valley," but he makes a sharp and sustained argument against "apocalyptic warnings" that social media and constant connectedness are degrading private consciousness or public discourse. He notes that popular innovations -- including text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, and Web comments sections -- have created, for the first time, "a global culture of avid writers."
Okay, Thompson, noted. Avid writers. Got it.

I need to make a further disclaimer. My thoughts on technological advances will not be influenced by the two trips I made, one Friday and one yesterday, to the Time Warner Cable service location, and the hour I waited yesterday amid the apparent hundreds of waiting customers -- not to be confused with the apparent hundreds of waiting customres who persuaded me not to try to wait them out Friday, when I had allotted only 30 minutes, or maybe 40-45 tops, for the mission, which was to swap two set-top boxes, and instead wound up schlepping the two boxes with me two my engagement that evening.

One of the boxes turned out not to need swapping, since it's a DVR box that only recently replaced the poor old underperforming analog DVR box that had been driving me crazy for years. Now I wanted to swap it for an HD DVR box, to go with the new TV that was just delivered Friday, and was startled but pleased to discover that this perfectly okay-ish new-ish box in fact delivers a digital signal. So that box simply needed to be schlepped back home, again> That also meant I didn't lose the unwatched programming that was still on the hard drive, even though I had prepared to wave it bye-bye. Still, there are some never-watched episodes of Maron and 1 Girl 5 Gays I'll be glad to still have a crack at. Of course it would have been nice if somebody had told my model would deliver an unconverted digital signal, but Time Warner Cable seems to have taken to providing not much information either by phone or by online chat. (Once I thought about the technological basis, of course, it makes sense, since the signal that comes into the box has been all-digital for some time. An "HD" box actually requires less technology.) Nevertheless, I wasn't displeased; also, I did get an HDMI cable, which TWC supplies for digital connections.

As to the other box, it was a replacement for my last remaining analog one. It just seemed to me that my cable boxes were awfully old. And the rep who helped me obligingly produced a model that is apparently also HD-ready, which is nice for when the analog set in question finally gives up the ghost. (It's already held together with duct tape, but it just won't die. Any more than the kitchen TV that was finally just replaced, a Sharp that I've been using for nearly 40 years after buying it used!) The only thing is, I finally plugged this box in tonight. It doesn't work. So it's back to TWC!

Like I said, though, my thoughts on technological progress will in no way be influenced by any of the above.

What happened was that I signed up for a workshop being offered by the map-making people at the Museum of the City of New York on digital map-making. I'm a life-long map obsessive, and have been intrigued by what I've seen of the new era of digital map-making, and no special expertise beyond familiarity with Google Maps was called for. As soon as I finished reading the e-announcement I did my online registration.

And let me say that the workshop was great. We had two really fine young instructors, Phillip covering the technical side and Liz covering the content side. I really like being around people who really know stuff. So, especially at my MCNY member's discount, I consider this money well spent.

The only thing is, after I registered, I got a very nice e-mail from the organizers thanking me for my registration and advising me to bring my laptop to the workshop. Which I'm sure would have been an excellent idea if I happened to own a laptop.

I think somebody else who didn't have a laptop with him eventually showed up this afternoon, but for a long time I thought I was the only freakishly laptop-deprived person on the planet. Liz the content maven assured me I wouldn't need it, and indeed the computer used for demo purposes (it altered between Liz's and Phillip's Macs) was projected on a nice big screen. I'm sure I would have gotten more out of the experience if I'd been flailing away at my own keyboard as Phillip and Liz demonstrated, but I sort of got the idea, and eventually I'll go back over it; we're promised access to the presentation.

I just wanted to raise the question that, come to think of it, I already raised in the title: When did it become assumed that everyone has a laptop computer? I mean, I spent plenty of time working at a computer -- most of my time at work, plus an awful lot of time at home. (Heck, I do after all produce nine DWT blogposts a week, including two that involve extensive editing of audio files.) I just didn't expect to find myself so far behind the technical curve.

And don't even get me started on my second smartphone. I still haven't reconnected it to my voice-mail box. That's pathetic, I know. But the laptop-computer question is different. Howie and I talked about this recently, and I really couldn't think of any reason why I need one. And that's without considering the damage I would be constantly about to do to the poor device. (This isn't theoretical. The last time I bought a laptop, many many years ago, I did in fairly short order demolish the screen.)

I can live with being "out of it." I've spent most of my life out of it. I just didn't realize this was yet another category of out-of-itness. In this regard, am I really that unusual?



At 7:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Strictly speaking, very few need a laptop. But if like me, you like laptops, but are a complete klutz, you might try a ruggedized one

Even if your idea of rugged is sitting outside a coffee shop on a sunny day.

At 8:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ken, I don't own a cellphone, let alone a smart phone. I don't subscribe to a dvr service, and I own exactly one (1) television. It is, I confess, an LG HDTV that I bought when my old CRT tv died an ignominious and premature death. I did, though, skip the 3D model. I can't be beat for someone who's "out of it."

I do own a laptop though, a refurbished high-end Dell I bought back in the Dark Ages of 2003. It finally developed a keyboard problem that I don't feel like investing money in fixing, so I'm in the market for a new computer.

Now, I've never taken the computer out of the house. I only rarely move it from the desk. Yet I'll be getting another laptop, probably a MacBook Pro for far too much bucks.

I like knowing that I can take it anywhere, if I so choose. I like its small footprint. I like that I can close it and it's no larger than a file folder. And let's face it, a laptop will always be cooler than most desktops.

If you're going to be taking courses outside the house that are about digital-based skills (!), you can expect that a laptop will come in handy. These days, many college students go to class with a laptop or tablet. Most schools expect their students to have them.

At 10:37 PM, Blogger Cirze said...

I also do not have (or want) a smart phone, have one TV (a 1987 Mitsubishi) connected to Dish without the expensive DVR deal, and a laptop (2008 Lenovo) that didn't work properly that someone lent me years ago and I've been able to keep working by my own blood, sweat and tears.

I think I'm the nontech winner here and it's almost embarrassing as I have a very small business repairing computers and teaching people how to use them based on my 30-plus years in the hardware and software engineering world.

But I haven't been able to find a job since the 90's so I'm feeling lucky every day that I survive.



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