A Bicycle for the Mind

Whenever I sit in front of my Mac, I am almost overwhelmed by possibility.

I feel like a caveman sat in the pilot’s seat of a Cessna. In the air. I practically shriek with delight at every magical, cool, amazing, distracting thing that is happening, scarcely able to grasp why what is happening, is happening.

I feel like the whole history of the world has happened in the last 30 years, since the day I put my first game up for sale, and I have been unable to grasp it all, to understand it all, to absorb it all. A century ago, nobody would have read more than the content of a Sunday newspaper in their entire lives. Now I feel like I’m drinking the Niagara Falls.

Jobs said that the computer is like a bicycle for the mind. Yes, it is, but I have a bicycle and it sits on a turbo trainer unused. I spin it from time to time, but have never got anything like what I should have out of it. It’s the same for computing. I feel so limited in the face of the three-orders-of-magnitude jump in power in my working life.

I have several computers, and every time I sit in front of one of them, I feel overwhelmed by all that I could have accomplished using one. A computer is the means of production. I can produce anything. Can.

My desire to produce, to create, to inspire, to reach out, to engage, overwhelms me, but I am still somehow riding in this barrel across the rapids and haven’t hit a rock yet.

I’ve worked on over a hundred games directly, have written untold articles, have composed so much music that is now forgotten, have made websites, have even exposed a cult, but I feel that my consciousness, the consciousness of untold others is straining to expand to the next level to accommodate the unbounded possibility that still abounds.

See Change with the New iPad

I’ve been surprised by John Gruber’s relative restraint in the face of the big reveal of The Holy Grail last week. I’m less surprised over the spate of articles by people who have their heads in the sand about what this new product means and how revolutionary it actually is. Although I was enjoying the nearby GDC during the announcement, I was blessed enough to be able to place my pre-order from the Starbucks on 3rd Street, from my iPad 1, naturally, just before the battery died after an intensive day of recording audio, taking notes and Engadget-page-refreshing.

The pre-existing iPad sales were hardly anaemic.

Apple shipped more iPads than all others shipped PCs

(This was just from the last reported quarter)

The fact that an unmatched software base (over a quarter of a million apps work on iPad) and a slightly insane 25 billion downloaded apps in total on iOS makes for customers that are not likely to be going anywhere else soon, seems to be lost on these so-called experts who think that hundreds of millions of iOS customers are suddenly going to jump ship to another platform “soon”.

What impressed me the most was that Apple was able to include a much more powerful SOC, a 4G LTE radio, known to drain Android handsets in little more than an hour and 4 times the pixels (can’t wait to read Instapaper) at a far greater colour saturation level on a device that doesn’t drain the battery any faster than its predecessor. That’s an engineering rabbit-out-of-the-hat delivered with insouciance by a confident company on top of its game while it sits on top of the world. Ridiculously impressive, and ridiculed only by the self-evidently ridiculous.

For the developer of iPad apps though, there is now a serious problem that I have never faced in 30 years of software development. It’s simply this: Never before has a target device had a greater resolution than the display used to create the software for it. The worst case has been parity (like when I wrote games for the Atari 400 on the hardware itself). Up until last week, the resolution on most high definition monitors meant that what you saw on your iPhone Retina could at least fit onto your working HD display, even if the dot pitch meant you’d see a grotesquely bloated version of it, but with the new iPad, you won’t even be able to see all of the pixels.

That’s a first.

And if that doesn’t scare the competition, they are already over.

(March 17, 2012 update: Note I said “most” monitors. There are always edge cases. I specifically excluded the wonderful 27″ iMac and the Thunderbolt display, out of the reach of many people, myself included for now. In any case, neither the 27″ iMac display, nor the Thunderbolt display and other such devices can come close to the pixel density of the amazing new iPad. The display on this new device is entrancing.)

The Purpose of Computing

I’ve been thinking about how genuinely useful computing devices are to us, now that they have become so utterly pervasive and so unremarkably ubiquitous. There is the inevitable lack of focus that tends to arise as a result of so much stimulation of so many varieties. There is the connection to our mammalian impulses that seemingly compel us to consume what we can, while we can, and with so many apps-as-sweeties, that amounts to rather a lot.

These then, are some of the negatives, and there are many more.

I am still hugely excited about computing, I’d say that computing is more exciting now than it has ever been. So what is the purpose of computing in the era of the smartphone and iPad? I’d call computing, and specifically connected computers human amplification devices. HADs let us be more than we ever were, more often, with greater reach and with zero delay.

You are more than you ever could have been at any time in the past. Your potential reach is greater, more powerful, more wide and more deep than at any point in history. The delay between you wanting to manifest something routine in your life, like your weekly shopping, or the sending of a thought, a picture, a movie, to every person you “know” has disappeared. The volume of information that we can and do share is now truly colossal and whilst connected computers have made this possible, connected smartphones have caused an order of magnitude increase in shared information volume and removed the inherent delay that used to be predicated on the availability of an originally scarce resource, the digital node, or a static, connected computer.

If I want more than a thousand people to know about how my neighbours are affecting me, I can ensure they know the second I feel upset. My network knows when I do. If I want the community police team to know, I can email them without worrying that it’s the weekend. Today, I had police appear in my home to reassure my family of the real help they were willing to offer because a few short hours earlier, I had asked the very same officer now in my house for help. My ability to effect real change in my life has been massively amplified and the frequency shortened thanks to ubiquitous Human Amplification Devices. The corresponding increase in energy utilised is truly enormous. There is no telling where this power will get us, because like any power, it can be used for good, or for evil.

I prefer to focus on the positive. So far, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. On the bus today, I checked into my BA flight and now have my boarding pass, on my phone. When I need the answer to a question, where before an answer was not always available no matter what the investment in energy, now I can employ a number of resources instantaneously and the chances are high that I will already be better informed within moments. I will be able to notify thousands of people around the world about this post having published it from my bed, having written it on an iPad that is always connected to just about everyone I have ever come into contact with. If I need to sort out a car booking crisis whilst helping a driver navigate an alternative route and also keep a rendezvous party informed and available, I can and I do make that happen thanks to my array of HADs. That makes a real difference in the lives of people. Long may it continue.