Sunday, June 10, 2007

Where's My Flying Car Part 22

I read through the "D: All Things Digital" conversation between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs excerpted in the Wall Street Journal, and watched much of the videocast available on iTunes's front page at the moment. This was no "battle of the bands" - they agreed on everything.

The reminiscences mostly revealed the power of the first movers: Jobs pointed out about the truest thing you can say about Microsoft: "Bill built the first software company in the industry before anybody really knew what a software company was."

I was bugged by the vision moment, where Walt Mossberg, the WSJ's tech columnist, asked Gates what he things his "principal device" will be in five years.
I don't think you'll have one device. I think you'll have a full-screen device that you can carry around, and you'll do dramatically more reading off of that.... I believe in the tablet form factor. I think you'll have voice. I think you'll have ink. You'll have some way of having a hardware keyboard and some settings for that. .... You'll have your living room, which is your 10-foot experience, and that's connected up to the Internet, and there you'll have gaming and entertainment, and there's a lot of experimentation in terms of what content looks like in that world. And then in your den, you'll have something a lot like you have at your desk at work. You know, the view is that every horizontal and vertical surface will have a projector so you can put information [on it]. Your desk can be a surface [where] you can sit and manipulate things.
A tablet with a voice? Actual ink? And a 10 foot screen in my living room? I could barely stay awake to the end of the paragraph. We've gone from flying cars and moon shots to a life of PDAs and Orwell-sized living-room screens.

These kinds of comments raise not only the issue of Gates's personal lack of imagination, but the cultural question of the extent to which information technology has been shaped by white kids from the 50s suburbs who liked carrying electronic junk in their pants. And who spent a lot of time in their rooms, and worked all the time. Maybe IT exists to preserve the father- knows-best tethering of home to office. (For a good memoir about the suburban culture of high-tech, see David Beers' book on growing up in early Silicon Valley.) Maybe IT has helped us stay stuck in a vanishing world rather than build ones.

What will help nano is offering some horizons beyond those of the boomer moguls of IT.

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