Mature Computing?

Mature Computing?How do we know when computing has matured? Many years ago, professor Don Norman answered that question for me by looking around his book-cluttered office and saying that computing will have matured when we are surrounded by computers and not aware of it. By comparison, we were sitting amid many kinds of printing and not really aware of it. His books, notes and papers on his desk, and memos posted on the wall all surrounded us covered with printing. Even the writing instruments themselves had writing on them.

Printing is mature. When he made that statement, computing was definitely immature.

But now when I drive my car, I am now surrounded by about twenty computers and not really aware of them as such. My telephone is more powerful than the computers that went to the moon. Even my watch can update itself by listening to WWV automatically. These computers are all doing their jobs without much input from me. When flying in a modern airplane, one might be surrounded by up to a thousand computers — and that does not include the ones being carried by passengers.

Another aspect of computing maturing is the change in activities of people who use them. A few years ago a PC users club I attend had about 130 active members with presentations sponsored by vendors. Now a large meeting would attract 25-30 members, and the nature of the presentations has changed. This evolution seems to have been driven by the maturing of computing rather than a lack of leadership in the club. Attendance of this seniors-oriented association varies from raw neophytes to professionals, but they all seem to share an interest in computer applications rather than computer mechanics. In the past, much more emphasis was placed on learning how the machines worked and how to hot rod them. Now the emphasis in on what you can do with them.

That emphasis is shared with the more modern concerns of security and privacy.

Could this change in activities result in the decrease in attendance of the club? That is, we do not have clubs formed by people to learn how to write with a pen — or make pens and keep them working correctly. But we do have clubs dedicated to helping members become better writers in the sense of being better able to construct a story.

Cars clubs are usually organized around a topic such as preserving old cars, customizing cars, hot rodding and racing cars, etc. Perhaps in the early days, there were clubs formed by people who were simply interested in cars. I suspect they spent a lot of time talking about the automotive equivalent of the BSOD.

Devices that are mature and used by everyone do not require or attract club activity. How many toothbrush clubs have you seen? Computing has not reached that level of maturity, but it is changing.

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