The Potential of the Post-PC Era – Part 1

August 11, 2011 — 1 Comment

Ever since Jason Hiner posted his speculations on the convergence of the PC and mobile in Utopian convergence of PC and mobile: How far away is it? I have been thinking about how that applies to my new situation at Concordia. The questions of convergence of the PC and mobile is really only significant to those who have fully committed to using laptops and now mobile devices. For those who are still anchored to a desktop PC and only use a cell phone or even a smart phone as a phone this is a moot point. Let me explain…

In meetings at the Adams Center at Abilene Christian University (ACU) most people brought their laptops to meetings and more recently we started to see tablets replace the laptops. Everyone had a device and at minimum people fell back on their smartphones. During the meeting you would hear the steady tapping of keys and the regular beeping or buzzing of smart phone or iPad signalling incoming emails and text messages. All meetings rooms had either a projector or in the case of the Adams Center a flat screen TV that people would use to show agenda items, videos, and work out task lists, action items and much more.

The meeting were more of a collaborative work session then they were traditional meetings because everyone was able to immediately do something related to what was being discussed. Many action items were immediately taken care of, files were immediately shared and many decisions were made on the spot. It was also not uncommon for people to pull up a google doc and collaboratively generate a plan or other document immediately rather than waiting to go back to their respective offices to do the work that was discussed.

If one was not used to working in this type of setting one could assume these meetings were too unruly and that most people were not paying attention because they were spending more time looking at their laptops or tablets then the one who was chairing the meeting. For the most part you would have a hard time telling who was chairing the meeting because there was so much peripheral activity. The traditional worker would be right–not much traditional work happened in those meetings because we were not working on business processes, we were working on the innovations that we hope could transform education and the world. We were dreaming of building the most effective learning environment.

I am not the only one who is working this way or who is noticing these significant changes. Mark Dean, Chief Technology Officer IBM Middle East and Africa, is one of a dozen IBM engineers who designed the first PC and who is now part of the IBM leadership that is moving IBM toward the Post-PC Era. Not only has Mark moved away from the PC to a Tablet as his primary computing device but he is predicting an even further move away from and emphasis on devices to what people do with devices. He states in his blog post IBM Leads the way in the Post-PC Era:

PCs are being replaced at the center of computing not by another type of device—though there’s plenty of excitement about smart phones and tablets—but by new ideas about the role that computing can play in progress. These days, it’s becoming clear that innovation flourishes best not on devices but in the social spaces between them, where people and ideas meet and interact. It is there that computing can have the most powerful impact on economy, society and people’s lives.

The best technology is the technology that has disappears or that no one even knows is there. It is not the technology that is important it is what you can do with it. Those noisy, rambunctious social interactions at the Adams Center at ACU that most traditional business people or academics would hesitate to call meetings are really just the cutting edge of where we need to go to really start making changes to our systems, our institutions and our society. Innovation will flourish when you bring people together and equip them to scheme and dream. If the technology is good enough that you don’t need to focus on it but you can use it to help you build those dreams then the sky is the limit.

Unfortunately, there is not much dreaming that goes on when people are tethered to their desktop PCs. Not much dreaming goes on when people scurry from their offices or cubicles with steno pads into media-less conference rooms and shuffle paper and check off processes and then scurry back to their offices or cubicles to transpose the meeting notes. Not much dreaming goes on when you only use computing technology to serve the administrative process of an institution.

Fortunately, we can start to change all this because the technology has matured to the point where it can really be used to help fill in those spaces between the social interactions. Our use of technology must also mature to the point where we take advantage of all this potential. This will be the subject of part 2.

Dwayne Harapnuik

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