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.