Off We Go, Haltingly, Into the Post-PC Era

We’re firmly into what’s commonly called the “Post-PC” era.

The iPad has sparked the gradual demise of both desktop and notebook computers. The mouse-click of yore has become the finger-tap of tomorrow, and the screen itself is now our primary means of inputting data into a computer.

Meanwhile, the “cloud” – aka the internet – has evolved into our primary information storage medium.

We have less and less need for local storage facilities like hard drives and DVDs. The more information we deposit into the cloud, the easier it is to access and manage.

There’s no doubt that the iPad as a device is truly revolutionary and has turned the technology industry upside down. Meanwhile, the cloud is redefining how and where we store our most valuable information.

Unfortunately, both new computing paradigms are weighed down heavily by the legacy of the PC.

And that’s extremely frustrating.

The  core problem that lingers from the days of the PC is the concept of an information structure that’s based on physical metaphors.

Yeah, I’m talking about files and folders.

Moving into the post-PC era, these concepts are finally rendered irrelevant as structured information storage becomes less of a concern.

We’re evolving into a period where context matters more than structure. You want the right information in situations when it’s relevant to your current state of place, time, purpose, and social environment.

You don’t want to have to go digging through a dog’s breakfast of folders to find what you need.

In the Post-PC era, your computer should automatically present to you what’s relevant to your current situation.

On the iPad, Apple’s done a great job of hiding the file structure from users.

The only problem is, the company hasn’t replaced it with anything better (or, truth be told, anything at all).

So software developers are working hard to reinstate multiple ad hoc structured file systems on the iPad that further anchor us to the past.

Structured file storage wouldn’t be such a problem if another handicap didn’t feed into it: our information silo mentality.

Date and time? That’s calendar information.

Phone number? That belongs in the address book.

Mission statement? We need to stuff that away in a word processing document somewhere.

Financials? Let’s imprison them in the two-dimensional environment of the spreadsheet.

We have now have a long-established common set of software categories that reinforce our practice of segregating information.

In the Post-PC era, those silos need to fall, and information needs to be viewed on a meta level, as individual cells that inform the whole.

We need to rip time and date out of the calendar, contacts out of the address book, and numbers out of spreadsheets to form a multi-dimensional view of our reality.

This is where the cloud could pick up: provide a comprehensive storage environment that actively works to link our information together in a structure based on relevance.

Instead, we have online repositories like Dropbox, Flickr, and Google Docs that provide us with nothing more than remote locations on which to dump our incongruous files and folders.

Even iPad app developers – who should be championing new information management models – feed our ignorance. There are scads of calendar apps, task apps, notetaking apps, and bill-tracking apps. But none of these apps share any information with others. As a result, our information gets trapped in ever-smaller silos.

The key to the Post-PC era is the model that software developers choose to leverage.

Currently, and this is again derived of PC practice, it’s a platform model. Flickr is a platform for photos. Dropbox is a platform for file storage. YouTube is where we store videos.

When you build platforms, you reinforce the segregation of information.

Post-PC, we need to adopt a conduit model that connects informational concepts.

How does time relate to financials?

How does place relate to food?

How do contacts relate to tasks?

There should be ready-made conduits that define relationships between these separate informational nodes that can, on the fly, introduce context.

As it stands, we continue to build information platforms that exist as disparate continents held apart by oceans of technical ignorance.

We need to truly embrace the metaphor of the cloud.

Real clouds are amorphous and made up of literally trillions of tiny water droplets. Think of the droplets as cells of information: phone numbers, GPS data, personal goals, photos.

As the climate adjusts, the clouds take on different forms. At times, as the climate changes, they will condense into rain or snow and fall down onto the surface.

The atmosphere fulfills the needs of the environment in a never-ending feedback loop. That’s how it should be with us and our information.

That is, our information should arrive to serve us as we need it. We shouldn’t have to go looking for it. (In a sense, that makes Google the Achilles heel of the Post-PC era. Search should just happen, we shouldn’t have to do it.)

Devices like the iPad and information storage environments like the cloud give us everything we need to completely evolve into a world of technology that finally serves us.

Now, if the people who develop software solutions these days would just fully shed the siloed, structured, and anonymous shackles of the PC, we’d realize that potential much sooner.

Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, March 11, 2011.

2 thoughts on “Off We Go, Haltingly, Into the Post-PC Era

  1. Hey Andrew,

    Perhaps the fallback on the iPad as a storage device has to do with the fact that it is not designed as a ‘stand alone’ device. Since it has limited storage capacity, and I believe is incapable of syncing with an external hard-drive, there is limited information to sift through on your iPad.

    I think the point of it is more like a temporary spot for storage. The user is then meant to sync the documents to their iMac or Macbook and organize them there. I don’t think the iPad is intended to be a permanent home for any of these kinds of documents.

    I would be interested to see the future iPad or next device from apple that is stand alone and has better filing practices though – it seems silly to need to own a personal computer when my iPad is capable of doing all my personal computing!

  2. Andrew,

    Great and insightful post. It got me thinking again about the same concepts I researched in my PhD dissertation.

    I hope you’re doing fine. All the best from my family here @Halifax, NS.

Comments are closed.