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Forward Into the Future

As I stared out at the parking lot at my place of employment, gazing over the sea of cars from my fifth floor vantage point, I thought to myself the supreme majesty of it all. And then I chuckled and thought to myself that Henry Ford would be proud. This was, after all, his dream.

But it also gave me pause, to stop and consider the nature of the American relationship to cars. (I can’t speak with any authority on the auto patterns of non-co-patriots, of course.) Most Americans are familiar with cars by their first birthday, usually through being driven in them. Around the double-digited grades, we begin to learn to finally drive for ourselves, first in formalized instruction, and later in ostensibly supervised co-piloting with family.

But, eventually, each working adult ends up with their own car, transportation to the various locales of work and leisure that their daily life requires.

So what is the next “car”? These days, cars are an assumption for an adult: an implied consequence of responsibility. As such, we consider a lack of this standard of living as hallmarked by a sort of barbarism. One of the best jokes in Back to the Future III is where an incredulous bar patron is informed by Marty that in the future when everyone has “one of these auto-whatsits” that people run for recreation. For fun. Of course, he replies, “Run for fun? What the hell kind of fun is that?”

But it seems obvious that the next such society-altering revolution will be — and already is — the computer and her inseparable sister the internet. However, since the internet is not a physical object to be owned, nor will its access be non-universal for any significant further period of time, for this discussion, it can be discounted.

Instead, I believe that the most salient and symbolically appropriate comparison is the personal desktop computer. In fact, in retrospect, I see now that in my life, my progression in relation to automobiles varied directly with my relationship with computers. There are actually a number of striking similarities between the epochs and their boundaries for these two aspects of maturation.

As a child, I used the family PC to do tasks that my parents provided for me, like playing Commander Keen, all while being driven places by my parents according to their dictates for my own good.

But as I moved into middle school, things became more proactive. Aided by a schoolmate and neighbor, I installed this enigmatic Half-Life and began to explore the gladiatorial vistas of Team Fortress Classic and Counter-Strike. After that would come Red Alert 2, Diablo I & II, and others. Similarly, but perhaps a few years later, I began attempting to gain some control over my own transport, doing my best to ensure I could have a parent-provided conveyance to weekly D&D sessions.

And then a time came in each thread where my parents, after deeming me requisitely responsible, conferred onto me my own engine for furthering my self-reliance. In computing, the day came when my father ran up the white flag after many struggles with me over computer access and went out and acquired a second PC for the rest of the family. (“Oh, honey, he’s teasing you. Nobody has two television sets.”) Acquiring a car of my own was a more amenable armistice that resulted in my receipt of a quintessential college student car.

From then, I was able to drive myself to the D&D games that were now occurring biweekly, thanks to the responsibilities that come on the coattails of age. In those days, I also took up using what was undisputedly my computer to play World of Warcraft with the same people I was increasingly infrequently playing D&D with.

Since that point, the nature of the personal responsibilities haven’t changed much, although there’s probably something to be said for the image of me loading up my car with my computer to go off to college. It’s also probably worth noting that not only does my family of four have four cars, we have eight computers: three laptops, four desktops, and a server, which works out to 2 computers per capita.

I have no doubt that my familiy is, in this, an outlier — how many homes roll their own file and print server using Linux? However, I think that the statistical correlation, backed by a reasonable conception of the causation, makes it relatively clear that computers are destined to go the way of the automobile, with the TRS80 in place of the Model T.

I can only fantasize what sight will provoke the same reaction in my progreny that the parking lot full of cars provoked in me.

My money is on the public school classroom where every student sits aside a computer in each of their studies, from math to art to history.

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Categories: Real Life
  1. Hazel
    March 13, 2008 at 10:48 am

    While I agree that computers and the internet are “the new car,” it’s really an exaggeration to say that students will have a different laptop for each class. After all, does each person have a different car for each place they go? No, it’s too expensive and just impractical. It’s more likely that it will be the norm to have one with full gaming capabilities, wireless internet, etc. Using paper for notes in class will be obsolete, and anyone doing so would be as out of place as one who drives a horse and buggy now. Then again, all classes might start being over the internet anyways.

    Of course, it’s entirely possible that that statement was intended to be taken hyperbolically, and I’m just not very good at picking up on that.

  2. hobershort
    March 13, 2008 at 11:37 am

    You did indeed misinterpret my statement, but in a very subtle way. I agree that various computers for each class is silly and that the student will likely have one computer that they take to class.

    What I mean to say, however, is that that one computer will be out and in use in every class, even those that today consider them to be a hindrance to learning.

  3. Hazel
    March 13, 2008 at 1:59 pm

    Yeah, I thought as much. Your use of the word “aside” was probably the reason for my confusion.

    What you’re actually saying, then, seems to be about the same thing that I was. Namely, that each student will have their own computer out in class every day instead of notebooks or other classic materials, which most people continue to prefer for the time being–like you said, because computers are more of a distraction when one is trying to learn.

  1. March 14, 2008 at 3:01 am

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