Where's My Flying Car/Tablet Computer

There are technologies that seem to evoke "the future," that when we see them, we think "wow that has the future written all over it." The flying car is like that. VR computer interfaces are like that. And because they represent the future SF writers--like myself--use these tropes to tell our readers "hey look, this is the future." And I think as a result, we sort of think that these kinds of technologies are familiar and within within reach and/or seem like something something that would productively enhance our lives.

But a flying car? More complex, more energy, more dangerous (if you think there are a lot of bad drivers with one axis of control, imagine what adding another would do) and it probably wouldn't be appreciably faster for most tasks. They're cool, but as a technology, it doesn't solve an extant problem in our world.

Same with virtual reality systems. It would require lots of energy (both in terms of CPU cycles, but more importantly in terms of programer and sysop time,) and while it might present some interesting entertainment/social/data visualization opportunities it represents a rather ineffective way to interact with a computer. The enduring (and growing) success of unix-stlye operating systems (which use simple text, and frequently a command line) to communicate with the user is testament to this fact. Until you can figure out a way to get data into someone's head faster then reading, or out of someone's head than typing, any sort of virtual reality system is basically useless.

In a similar sort of vein, contemporary technology users, myself among them, look eagerly at tablet-style devices as heralding the next wave of computing: much like avid futurists might look toward flying cars or virtual reality. They're portable, they're powerful, they're pretty, and ultimately, they're ineffective for general use, because in the end, while tablet computers are great for absorbing data quickly, they are much less effective when you need to get more data into them. So we'll have tablet computers of some kind, in the next few years--basically we already do, but it's not the next big thing in computing, that's for sure, and yet, I think we latch onto things like tablets because it seems like the next place for technological development. But it isn't really.

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