Tablets: A Giant Step Back for Mankind
Steven is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.
“I’ve been against Macintosh Company lately. They’re trying to get everyone to use iPads and when people use iPads they end up just using technology to consume things instead of making things. With a computer you can make things. You can code, you can make things and create things that have never before existed and do things that have never been done before.”
This quote is from Russell Kirsch, the man who invented the world’s first internally programmable computer and the first digital image. I couldn’t agree more with him. Mobile computing is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing for Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), and Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), and a curse for society. But before you get all hot and bothered, think about it for a second.
Tablets are made primarily as a consumption device. And that’s what people mainly do with them. They consume information, media, and sometimes are productive after their eyes have glazed over. By productive, I mean they sent out an email that took less than ten minutes to draft. The recipient on the other end will consume that email, bringing it full circle. Sure, some users record their band’s next one-hit-wonder with a tablet or smartphone, but they aren’t doing it for the sake of practicality, nor are in the majority.
In a world of always on, always connected, people cannot get away from this era. Our brains are becoming reprogrammed for less creativity. It’s increasingly difficult to give it a rest. When was the last time you didn’t check your email while on a vacation?
There’s no denying mobile computing is here to stay. Tablets and smartphones have seen explosive growth over the last few years, and the trend has yet to let up. It means the future will be filled with more connectivity for more users. Intel’s (NASDAQ: INTC) future growth relies on it, having released their first line of mobile chips earlier this year. Their 22nm process is a solid generation ahead of the competition. I believe they will become a bigger player in the mobile computing space in a few years time.
What happens when a whole class of society consumes more and creates less? It’s simple really. It makes it easier for the companies that are in power to remain in power. Let me explain.
Tablets prohibit innovation. Before all the developers come out of the woodwork and start dissenting, let me ask you a few questions:
- What kind of device do you use to program with?
- What are your applications primarily used for?
Without computers and knowledge that tablets promote consumption, the vast majority of developers would not be “innovating.” In my mind, “innovation” for entertainment purposes isn’t really innovating. It’s more of an exploitation of a specific trend for a profit. Innovation fulfills a real need in society by serving its fellow citizens in some better way. The more time the world spends on tablets and smartphones, the less time it will spend creating. Mass-complacency is the theme tech-titans are banking on to keep their empires protected from new threats.
Consumption Isn’t Evil
By now you’re probably wondering if I’m an entertainment hater. I am, if it means society will be creating less. Entertainment can fulfill a very specific need for our brains – like a much needed rest from creating. But like too much of anything, it will rot our creativity. And I think we’ve reached that threshold where we have become too connected to the world. The iPad is the pinnacle example. With it, you can also access YouTube, your Kindle, and download an endless number of apps all before the day has begun. That’s both amazing and dangerously captivating at the same time.
I’ve written before that I believe tablets have massive potential to do great things for society, like providing greater access to affordable education. And all that’s true. Mobile computing is a great invention, but it has the potential to be easily abused – especially now that it’s in the hands of millions of users.
Shaping the Future
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has a different approach to this with their Surface tablet concept. It’s the tablet option for full-blown productivity. While they may be late to the game, they are hoping users are seeking more, but don’t know where to turn. The Surface fills that void in the tablet market – hypothetically speaking. In reality, we don’t know how it will perform, or even know what it will cost. Both those specifics will weigh heavily on adoption rates.
An interesting thought is if Microsoft is successful at launching this product. They’ve failed many times before because they haven’t been the most rational investors. But this time may be different because they appear to have learned from their mistakes. They took their time and brought some innovation to the table with the Surface. Should they prove successful, they might actually be doing society a favor by inviting more creativity to the tablet experience. If that happens, I expect all those naysayers to immediately revoke any evil doing remark about Microsoft.
2% Battery Remains
The consumption pendulum has reached an extreme, leaving little left for creativity. It’s freethinking and creativity that marches the world forward in new and exciting ways. And less of that is not a good thing. If we are always on and connected, at what point do we push back and turn off? When PCs first came out, we used technology to create a better planet. Today, technology companies use computers to design portable devices that are intended for consumption. They are feeding off our desire to consume, enabling an age of creative complacency. In this age, the powers in control remain in control. I never thought I’d say this, but Microsoft might become the world’s savior by waking us out of this trance.
In the end, I’m not saying these companies make bad investments. In reality, it’s likely the direct opposite because the human condition was born to consume – especially when it’s so darn convenient. They’ve just found a way to capitalize on this deep-rooted psychological behavior. How can you blame them? We enabled it.
TopDownTrends owns shares of Intel. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Amazon.com, Google, Intel, and Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Amazon.com, Apple, Google, and Intel. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. If you have questions about this post or the Fool’s blog network, click here for information.