Another senior client with a quad-core PC who only plays solitaire and checks her emails called me to help with some slight problems. This excess of cheaply available computing power combined with essentially free hard disc storage (two terabytes for less than $100 has to be considered cheap) still amazes me. Some horror of wasting resources, which I probably inherited from my depression era parents, makes me wonder about the market pressures that cause people to purchase more power than they will ever need. I am probably misguided in this feeling.
There are good reasons why a person, particularly a senior who is not computer literate, should have a powerful computer. Each new generation of hardware/operating system combinations has been easier to use and more stable — with some minor exceptions. This is true of Apple and Linux in addition to Microsoft. Applications using streaming video are now common. Can you remember the first time you saw video on a PC? Remember the limitations on a Lotus spreadsheet (or VisiCalc) when you first used it on an Apple ][?
With the popularity of the iPad and various other pads, we are starting to break away from the traditional qwerty/mouse combination for input. Speech recognition is still improving and now is far more than a toy. Computers are still not very good at understanding visual scenes, but they are good enough to use facial recognition for security in home machines. The president of the United States held a tweet conference. The physical embodiment of computers is changing as well as the functions. New uses will continue to evolve.
So what about the person who uses a fraction of a PC’s computing power? I am reminded of the criteria for an excellent library. Naively one might say that an excellent library is one in which there is a great demand for its books and all of them are read by patrons. In fact, nearly the opposite is true. In a great library, the vast majority of books are rarely, if ever, read. They are available, but seldom accessed. By contrast, the naive image is more appropriate for a traveling bookmobile library — wonderfully useful, not in the same class as the Library of Congress.
Perhaps a similar paradox applies to computers. They will have achieved excellence when most of their power is unused, but available. In that sense, my under-utilizing clients are beginning to experience the maturing of PCs.