The Post-PC age: Do we choose the miraculous, or the mundane?

There is a battle raging. This isn't just the one between Apple [AAPL] and the Android massive, but sees those who aim to benefit humanity struggle against those who simply seek profit from our transient existence.


[ABOVE: These devices changed the world. Now we carry them in our pockets.]

Change is here

In the wider context, we are seeing a sea change in what seems to matter. We have millions across the planet protesting that society, not economy, should be the central guide to the decisions we take. Against them stand powerful forces committed to maintenance of their own hegemony.

Art reflects life, they say. Look around and you see the creative arts throwing up ever more examples in which artists attempt to capture and reflect the prevailing feeling of these times, drawing on a cultural inheritance which can trace its seeds right back to the dawn of Silicon Valley itself.

The Whole Earth Catalog wasn't just a bible for the young Steve Jobs, but to all the early day technologists who then created solutions that are transforming human experience. Think back even one short decade and consider the impact of technology on books, film, music, communication, self-expression, the media, and across all branches of what some call the "Liberal Arts". These technologies are transformative.

Who better to capture some of the notions that drove these pioneers of technological advancement than Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak, who spoke to the Guardian last Friday. In an interview focused on the PRISM surveillance story, he harkens back to the early days of enthusiastic, highly intelligent geeks developing solutions that eventually became the PC, and now the Post-PC:

"We created the computers to free the people up, give them instant communication anywhere in the world; any thought you had, you could share freely. That it was going to overcome a lot of the government restrictions," he says.

He continues:

"We didn't realize that in the digital world there were a lot of ways to use the digital technology to control us, to snoop on us, to make things possible that weren't. In the old days of mailing letters, you licked it, and when you got an envelope that was still sealed, nobody had seen it; you had private communication. Now they say, because it's email, it cannot be private; anyone can listen."

Miracle, or mundane?

Focusing on the battle within the smartphone space, it seems to me we are seeing a reflection of the wider social context. We have some firms who seem committed to an attempt at delivering integrated and secure solutions that enable people's lives. Ranged against them we have a selection of seemingly imitative foes that seem to believe the lowest common denominator is the best we can expect.

Fragmentation, device insecurity, limited design innovation and limited engagement seem to define these utilitarian solutions. Solutions delivered under the banner of "openness" from a company that seems to place very little value in keeping user privacy closed. For myself, I completely reject the premise that we should sacrifice privacy for convenience. Others think different, and that is their right.

Art reflects life.

In my eyes a focus on developing new technologies that serve to liberate and enable people reflects a wider need for reinvention. This drive to reimagine, reinvent and rebuild characterizes so much of what seems to matter in this age of political, social, economic and environmental upheaval.

In our response we choose between the miraculous, and the mundane. As we make our choices the phrase, "Stay hungry, stay foolish," remains as appropriate a maxim to as it did in 1968 when the Whole Earth Catalog first hit the shelves. Do we strive for the miraculous, or settle for the mundane?

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