Every now and again, I find myself wondering if what I do here matters all that much. Much of what I write about here will be out of date within a few months or a year: software gets updated, hardware improved, and we all, eventually, move on. A classic piece of literature might have staying power over centuries; a classic computer, not so much—there are very few Shakespeares in the world of technology. And, yet, here I am.
It’s not what I expected for myself. My background covers a wide swath of fine arts: I was a drawing major in college, where I also served a year as Student Poet of Connecticut, traveling from school to school to give readings. After school I concentrated more on writing—I still freelance as a film writer—but also began performing with jazz combos as a guitarist. I ran a movie theater for a few years. Not long ago I began doing freelance photo work for a sports photography outfit. Traditionally, all that has been seen as somehow more important than what goes on in the world of technology—and for a long time, I felt that way too.
These days, though, I don’t. Our computers today—many handheld, small enough to be carried everywhere—have become so much a part of our life that the smallest design decisions really can have a huge impact. Think of Apple’s famous “pinch to zoom” idea; in a few short years it has become such second nature that toddlers do it without thinking. We are connected in a way—a quite meaningful if still sometimes mysterious way—that we have never been before. We’ve so integrated this new way of interacting that much of the time—when design works best—we’re barely aware of the experience at all. Or, better, we have the experience without the mechanics; it becomes an almost seamless extension of a more natural act. We touch and hold these devices with an intimacy earlier computers never had; we look them in the face all day long, and they sleep beside us on the night stand—when they aren’t in bed with us, showing us a movie or reading us to sleep.
One thing that always amazes me about this recent revolution is how much it has done, paradoxically, to bring people together. People who once found it hard to connect now eagerly share—easily observable online, of course, but also in the “real world,” where families seem more excited to show each other some small wonder or another.
So to think of them as just hardware is to overlook ourselves. Design matters more than ever now, and as it evolves so do we—and vice-versa. The beauty is not knowing what’s coming, and wondering where we’ll turn next is what keeps me looking ahead.