Bye Bye Computer ?

Feb 07

A calm Sunday afternoon. The ideal moment to sit down behind my little Acer Aspire Net-book and punch out some of the thoughts and idea’s that have been on my mind for the last week. A busy week I must say. A week filled with work and meetings and a lot of rushing about. Clocking up some more miles in the car and spending quite a bit of time being "out and about". The cool part about that is that you need to get creative when it comes to your "on-line life". Most of us have an on-line social scene that centres around the moments where we sit "behind" the computer. Werther at home or at work, our digital lifestyle is closely bonded with the keyboard and mouse that we are using at that moment. As soon as we step outside ( or even wander near the coffee machine ) small physical space represents the giant gap between our ‘Analogue’ (I refuse to call them "real") lives and our "Digital" Lives. Or does it really ?

To me that mobility started to fade away when I got my first smart-phone that had a GPRS connection (my good friend the Palm Treo). It was one of the first cellphones I owned until it , quite literally "died" and I was quite attached to it. Not because of the hardware (it was a decent piece of kit) but because of the fact it bridged the digital life I had behind the keyboard, with my real life when I was out and about in off-line-land. From that moment on, with slow GPRS pop3 pull-mail as my only lifeline, something fundamentally changed in the way I used computers and more importantly, in the way I experienced the internet.

Fast forward to last weekend
, when I traded up my trusty Blackberry Curve 8300 for a Blackberry Bold 9000. A streak of luck would have it that I found a busy businessman with a taste for the newest gadgets who was going to buy a Blackberry 9700. In order to scrounge up some extra cash he put his Bold 9000 up for sale on the internet and I was the first one to call him about the offer. The cool little device was only 5 months old and came with a one-year warranty and plenty of extras. (Deluxe casing etc.). I was looking out for a BOLD because I had enjoyed my Curve very much over the last year but was itching to try out a new toy.

What I did NOT expect when I got my hands on the BOLD, was the fact that is was so radically different from any smart-phone I had owned prior. Ok, With the Blackberry Curve came the advent of Push-email (My mailbox in my pocket) and that in itself meant the end of using my personal cellphone as a ‘voice communicator’. Next came übertwitter on the Blackberry (another great step forward) and next came the Googletalk client. With these three applications I had a pretty firm tie to the internet, no matter WHERE I went. Downside was of course the poor speed (GPRS Only) and the limited data plan I have (100 meg’s a month).

With the Bold however this changed. The device in itself is bigger and comes with a much better screen. Its a lot faster then the Curve, and upgrading the internal SD card from 1 to 4 gigabyte did give me a lot more storage. But what surprised me the most was the fact that this baby could run several applications at once (multitasking) and came with a Wifi connection. This last part (something that I had always scoffed at in a smart-phone, (Who needs wifi on a device with a numerical interface’) turned out to be yet another killer feature for this device.  What happened is that I started to browse the applications on the Blackberry Appworld and downloaded not only the Facebook app, Ubertwitter, GoogleVoice and Googletalk, but I also went for MSN messenger, Flickr uploader and some others. I had some of these applications on the Curve, but the combination of Wifi connectivity at home AND multitasking brought on a whole new way of "connecting" to my digital life.

Where at first I would have my Netbook next to me on the couch, with Skype, MSN, Twitter and Email open, these applications have now been permanently moved to the Blackberry. I no longer run an MSN/Adium/Pidgin client to manage my MSN, Googletalk and Facebook contacts. Those applications are now running on the Bold. 24/7. Suddenly these apps have been "liberated" from the computer and now permanently reside in my back pocket. Same with Twitter. When I’m behind the computer I’ll probably fire up Tweetdeck, but only as an "extra" way of interacting with my Twitterstream. The combination of the screen real estate, processor power, multitasking abilities and wifi/3G connection of the Blackberry has turned the device in a full-blown "communicator" instead of a "phone with email". I don’t really see the Blackberry as a "Phone with extras". I look at it as a "personal communicator" with the ‘extra option’ to make voice-calls.  The application Nimbuzz (that I found thanks to @meon) now even ties all my major social "comlines" (MSN, Skype, Facebook and Googletalk) into one single IM application. As I find more and more applications on the app store I’m feeling myself become more and more independent of just not ‘one computer" but ‘any computer’. While finding new tools for the Blackberry (I’ve even found a stand alone podcatcher that will auto-download my podcasts over wifi and store them on the SD-card) I’ve pondered ditching the Ipod touch (and its need to "sync podcasts) every morning in favour of the Blackberry. But the drain on the battery is becoming the showstopper.

However, aside from it all, I’m amazed at the way we change the way we interact with the digital world now "devices" become more and more powerful. Pretty soon "classic phone-calls" will be a thing of the past and trees can grow without fear of being cut down to make "books" out of them thanks to ebook readers. But what about our computers ? Will we see a drastic change in the way we interact with our digital lives ? Will the Ipads and the Smartphones take over the communicational aspects and will a computer regress into an "interaction terminal" for tasks that require a bigger screen ? Or are down the path suggested by @thenos100 when he asked us the question : Would you use a Smartphone with an external keyboard, screen and mouse ? Its a valid question that requires some pondering.

Perhaps its time to say "bye bye computer"?

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