This week, after six years, the gaming PC conked out well and properly. (Did you notice my correct grammar there?) This necessitated a new one, since Apple desktops — apparently — don’t offer the same array of strategy games. (I wouldn’t know.)
My husband builds his own PCs. For a thousand dollars he can build his own machine for which he’d be charged double as a pre-built from a computer store.
I built my computer five years ago — with help, admittedly — during a TAFE course in networking and programming. I think it was that… and a few other things… which made me realise I wasn’t really all that excited about the inner workings of a computer after all. My classmates were intent on pimping theirs up, clocking the wotsits and boasting about specs, and I felt as if I were on a different planet.
One of our class trips involved a visit to a place which felt just like something out of an Enid Blyton or a Joanne Rowling — not because it was full of potions and spells, but because stores selling computer parts seem to belong to a different world. Until I was in that world, I never knew such places exist — dirty little shops off alleyways with a long line of computer-looking people queuing from the door and all along the footpath. Every now and then, a nerd would emerge with glee, clutching the latest graphics card, whose brightly coloured boxes decorated with anime inspired illustrations always look, to me, to be far more exciting than their contents.
Once inside, I found the computer-parts shop was cramped and hot and muggy and full of boxes which would never stand up in my hometown (of Christchurch). You would tell one of the twenty-something young men what you wanted — rattling off the exact specs — and he would mooch away and somehow, miraculously, come back with, ‘Here you go,’ or, ‘We’re out of that. How about this? Yeah, it’s compatible.’ Because those young men know things like that. They have somehow memorised it.
We no longer live in Melbourne, and Canberra is not exactly renowned for its alleyways and dark little shops, but my husband was delighted to learn that the same business has now opened a branch locally, which meant he could order his parts online, then go to Fyshwick and pick it all up after he got the email.
He got the email. He arrived home late this evening carrying an armload of small cardboard boxes. He’s building his new machine now, on the kitchen floor. Even in the last five years, computer building has gotten easier — you no longer need to ‘paste’ your processor onto the motherboard, for instance. I must admit, this takes away the only bit of crafty fun I gleaned from the experience.
I asked him about his visit to the shop, wondering if it was anything like the parallel universe experience of my Melbourne expedition.
Apparently, the Canberra branch is even more chaotic than the Melbourne one: boxes from here to kingdom come, on their sides, some open, others stacked up, and no clear pathway to the counter — a health and safety aberration.
I have my own theories about this state of things. The first, most obvious theory is that the young men who deal in computer innards aren’t particularly concerned about creating a welcoming (read: clean and tidy) environment. But then I thought of the stereotypical clientele: the coke swilling Peter Jackson lookalikes, wearing Metallica t-shirts and three days’ worth of permanent stubble. That sort of customer feels perfectly at home amidst chaos. Who am I to say that an untidy shop isn’t welcoming? Dan told me that there were various customers milling about the store, peering into boxes… browsing.
“How on earth do the shop assistants ever find the online orders?” I asked. “Did they find your parts okay?”
“Yeah. Well, they had a bit of trouble. One guy accused the other guy of shifting his shit. But he found it in the end. But another customer wasn’t as lucky. The guys reckoned one of his boxes must have been stolen again. They said they get theft quite a bit. Some dude just walked in, opened a box and took off with two mice.”
At first I thought he was talking about rodents, because Dan also told me that the workers were chowing down on kebabs and a 1.5 litre bottle of Coke* as they served customers, so I imagined an equally safe and welcoming haven for those of the ratty type, but then I realised that the plural of computer mouse is ‘mice’, just like the animal. I wondered why a nerd would risk getting a criminal record over two computer mice. You’d think at least that he’d nick a thousand dollar graphics card.
*I do hate to view the world in stereotypes, but sometimes the evidence just works against you, doesn’t it?
As I write, this amazing computer is being built. The aroma of polystyrene and plastic bags wafts to me from the kitchen. This evokes memories of many small parts in tiny bags, and of riffling through user manuals: never my idea of a fun evening.
Instead, I will scribe the dinnertime discussion we had this evening, provoked by the perusal of computer boxes, followed by exclamations of delight such as, ‘Quad core! Who would have thought ten years ago that the home PC’d have a QUAD CORE processor!’
To be honest, I’m not given to contemplating such things at all, but far more alluring to me are possibilities of the future, and so we each gave our predictions for computers and tech related progress in the year 2022, using the trusty Moore’s Law as a rough guide. I will schedule this part of the post to reappear on this day in ten years’ time. No doubt we’ll have a good laugh at it, if we’re still around!
PREDICTIONS FOR COMPUTERS IN THE YEAR 2022
The humans are dead.
If 2012 gives us quad core processing, Moore’s Law predicts something close to 36 core processors for home computers by 2022, along with about 50GB of RAM. This will mean very fast computers indeed. But what will it really mean, for those of us who don’t much care for pimping our machines? Will it have any real effect? (I don’t imagine Microsoft will have sorted out its bit rot issue.)
I predict the rise and celebration of crowd computing a la SETI, in which time-intensive endeavours in fields such as astronomy and genetics rely more and more upon highly skilled enthusiasts to add to the body of human knowledge. This is already happening to a degree, but I predict some real breakthroughs will have been achieved by people who were surprisingly self-taught. Those people may even be from countries where computers, in 2012, are not yet ubiquitous.
Voice recognition will have either been fully embraced or died completely. (“Siri? Who’s that?”) It may well take off, for the simple reason that lots of young ‘digital natives’ (I hate that term, by the way) are not being taught to touch type. They’re using (touch) keyboards from toddlerhood, and they can reach a fairly good typing speed with just a few fingers, which makes proper touch typing much harder to learn.
Physical bookshelves will be even harder to find than they are now — people are getting rid of their bookshelves. This is partly because we are not holding onto books, and partly because we’re moving to eReaders. In ten years’ time, all reading people will own an eReader, and Apple will have perfected eInk technology in colour, even if Apple does not have the same market share as it does now. eReaders will be a lot better than they are now. At the moment, compared to the technology available, they are woeful. eReaders will have embraced social networking so readers can, for example, hook up with friends and see how far through a book their friend is. And everyone will be a mini publishing company, if they wish to be.
Likewise, ownership of tablet computers will be standard, and people will keep all significant data in the cloud. This will have a large effect in the classroom. Students will no longer be lugging heavy bags of books to and from school.
Web presence will be just as important as a person’s physical presence e.g. their sense of fashion, choice of vehicle and abode, or their professional CV. Web presence already important for people such as webdesigners, but a well-managed web persona will become standard, rendering business cards and CVs obsolete. A google search will be a standard part of a reference check. There will be a lot of regrets among the sixteen year olds of today, but at the same time, society will have to become more accepting of the fact that everyone who seeks the limelight has had a somewhat colourful (and highly documented) past.
The digital divide will be even more stark than it is now, not just between the rich and the poor but between next door neighbours of the same age: one neighbour prioritises technology, reads up on the latest innovations and buys the latest gadgets. The other has been overwhelmed and, failing to be impressed by touch phone culture, in which it’s impossible to sit in a restaurant without someone putting their device on the tabletop, takes some pride in keeping to the simple life. For this person, tech-avoidance is sort of like a new-age religion, without the god. In ten years’ time tech-avoidance will still be an option, but the two neighbours will have less and less in common in the following decades, even in regards to the language they use,the media they consume, the people they meet and the opportunities they are offered.
Small retail outlets selling items of a postable size will have all but disappeared. We’ll have a few big-box retailers, and malls will be fashion heavy, simply because it’s difficult to buy clothes that fit via the Internet. Bookstores will be a quaint relic of the past, remaining mainly to serve as a hub for local artistic communities. Electronics stores will have gone too, though there will still be shop fronts, reminiscent of a Apple stores, in which customers can browse the products and talk to experts. But the bulk of sales will take place online. Australia Post will have a pretty good year after all.
The Xbox 720 will be well and truly out, and enthusiasts will be looking forward to the next one. It would be great if game developers took a more ‘sandbox’ approach, but the current trend is likely to continue all the way until 2022: games will be mainly male-centric, and tied in to large franchises such as box office movie hits. This will even impact which types of movies are made, with directors from large companies choosing scripts which have obvious gaming potential. While the graphics of these games will be stunning, this is likely to mask the fact that the games themselves are not particularly interactive — more akin to movies than to thinking games. However, there will be a huge need for true games, and with the superpowers of personal computers, there will be some exciting indie development in this area. The best games will be found only by those who look hard enough for them, not by the consumer who buys from the big boys.
The latest gadgets will still be expensive, but people will be more concerned about I.D. theft than gadget theft. Gadgets are more trackable than they are now, and will have little value on the black second hand market.
Home computers will have merged with TVs, which will be cheaper and larger and slimmer. Thanks to Apple, they’ll be easier to set up. Unlike today, homes will not be snaked with black cords. We won’t typically need five remote controls to operate the entertainment system. We’ll have gotten sick of that, and the average consumer will buy gadgets based as much on ease of set-up and aesthetic value as on tech specs. This will be fuelled by the ageing population, who at some stage realise there’s not time to keep up with everything after all.
After Liberal gets in at the 2013 Federal Elections, the National Broadbank Network will take a backseat, and by 2022 there will still be parts of Australia who do not have access to fast broadband.
We will make another call to our phone company, who will send a guy called Anthony around to tip water out of the pit at the end of our street. This will work, until we have another heavy rain storm. Anthony will say, “We know this must be frustrating for you, but we’re waiting on the council to get approval to dig a new hole.”
“Any day now,” he’ll say. “Any day now.”