Death of the Desktop Computer?

In an act of reading out loud, Mike Caulfield models how how he challenges ideas and assumptions while reading. To demonstrate this, he uses the lead-crime hypothesis which argues that the crime-wave in USA during the 1990’s was caused by lead poisoning in the 70’s. After finding an article from 1971 discussing lead poisoning in Manchester, he progressively unpacks it, opening up tab after tab, asking questions and testing different hypothesises.

For Caulfield, this is what web literate reading looks like:

You read things, and slide smoothly into multi-tab investigations of issues, pulling in statistical databases, unit converters, old and new magazine articles, published research.

The problem though is that much of this is either unavailable or difficult to do on a mobile device. Being an advocate of online reading, I was challenged by this. It had me thinking about what else I do on the desktop that is not possible on my phone or tablet. One aspect that came to mind was bookmarklets.

Although it would be easy to list all the extensions and applications that I use my laptop for, it is the bookmarklets that I have come to rely upon and that I miss when mobile:

  • CC Attribution Helper: This application built by Alan Levine allows you to both attribute and embed images posted under a Creative Commons license on Flickr. I have used it for a few years when inserting images into my blog posts. Even when I have to add an image through the media library (such as featured images), I still use it to capture the appropriate attribution.
  • Wikity: Earlier this year I spun up my own instance of Wikity, Mike Caulfield’s WordPress theme designed to help the creation of knowledge. One of the features is the bookmarklet that allows you to quickly capture a quote and add some text. Although it is possible to create a post on mobile, the ability to provide additional content and links is limited.
  • Radio3: Recently, I started exploring Dave Winer’s Radio3 Linkblog, which allows you to push links out to various platforms, whilst also maintaining your own RSS. Like Wikity, it involves selecting a post or quote and clicking on the bookmarklet. Although I had started dabbling with the idea of pushing links out via WordPress, the creation of a separate feed means that I can do a number of things with it, such as push links to Diigo via IFTTT.

These are just some of the bookmarklets that I use, with others including Quozio, Responsive Design and Mozilla X-Ray Googles. Although I agree that mobile devices are becoming more and more dominant, I think that they have their limit. There are still many activities which I depend on a laptop for, such as finishing my posts or creating visual quotes. I also feel that there are solutions that will always be beyond the realm of the mobile device, especially as I move further and further into the #Indieweb world. So to answer Caulfield’s question as to how we get more students onto laptops, it starts with addressing why it matters today more than ever.

So what about you? What do you still depend upon the desktop for or is a mobile screen enough? As always, comments welcome.


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Aaron Davis

I am an Australian educator supporting schools with the integration of technology and pedagogical innovation. I have an interest in how together we can work to make a better world.

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Death of the Desktop Computer? by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

9 thoughts on “Death of the Desktop Computer?

  1. Hello Aaron. You’ve got me doing some deeper thinking this morning. My minimalist tendencies wax and wane when it comes to technology. Like many, I have a curiosity when it comes to the new shiny gadgets. I am finding as time marches on, I am doing more and more on my iPad or smart phone. However, like an old pair of shoes that I can’t discard, I still enjoy spending early mornings banging away on my iMac. Writing just seems to flow more naturally in this setting. Come to think of it, I’ve always preferred #2 pencils over ball-point pens. In short, when it comes to serious composition and creative publishing, I prefer the myriad of tools provided on desktop platforms. I hope desktops stay around at least long enough for me to document a few more lucid thoughts.
    Thanks for the knowledge,
    Bob

    1. I wonder if it is just about workflows Bob and staying fresh. As I recently touched upon in regards to the writing process, my way of getting stuff done ebbs and flows. I wonder what might change next?

  2. Why must it be a choice? I use both for consuming information, the mobile often for acquiring media (images, video, audio). I find most writing cumbersome (sloppy on the tiny keys, and the sheer challenges of copy/paste)

    One tendency is to make a line between a platform for consumption (mobile) vs creation (a “real” computer), yet that’s suspect. You can certainly create a fair amount of things on a mobile device. To a point.

    The things I could not really see doing on a mobile:

    Graphics editing beyond simple adjustments, effects, adding text. The layered work I do in photoshop building animations? Not seeing that on a handheld
    Multitrack Audio Editing- Unless you are doing trims, editing audio on mobile is not even close to possible.
    Multitrack Video Editing – ditto. Sure you can do some decent editing in iMovie for iOS, but no where near the fine tuning I can do on a desktop
    Programming. I would die trying to do code on a phone
    Sensible Twitter reading– There is nothing I have seen that provides the flexible slices f Tweetdeck. On a phone you are stuck a stream view. On the “official” twitter app it takes about 5 pokes/clicks to see a list.

    Don’t get me wrong, there are some things I love doing on the mobile, but its stuff that makes use of either the interface (swipe / touch navigation, maybe Paper 51, Garage Band) or the portability.

    It’s a false choice I see no reason to make, sorry.

    1. Fair call Alan. I guess that it comes down to workflows. I look at colleagues with devices like the Surface that tries to be everything. It always seems to fall down. Not sure why. To me it is like the double-neck guitar. Don’t get me wrong, they look awesome. However, not sure how practical they are as an instrument?

  3. Hi Aaron,
    This is an interesting conversation to come up for me when I’m just getting stuck into a case study for my final (yes, it’s only taken 4 years) Masters subject. I’m investigating my school’s BYO any device program and I suspect one of the findings will be that students who bring an iPad (or other tablet, although I don’t think there are any) are at a disadvantage compared to the majority with their Mac and Windows laptops. We shall see.
    Earlier in the semester we had an online meeting with Mike Hourahine of Think Global School (a mobile school, literally – https://thinkglobalschool.org/). Their students are all three to one – a Macbook air, an iPad and an iPhone. That’s me as it happens and like some of your other commenters I firmly believe that no individual device is the answer for all needs – choosing the right tool for the job, that’s the key.
    Cheers,
    Heather

    1. Thanks for the comment Heather,

      Your points about multiple devices reminds me in part of the work of Mal Lee and Roger Broadie. They discuss the idea of being technology agnostic.

      So long as the chosen technologies can readily access the Net as far as the school is concerned it doesn’t matter which folk choose. While it is likely wise for schools to provide continually updated advice, part of the trusting and empowering of the school community is letting each member make the choice of the desired personal technologies.

      I agree about the trust, but question relying on a mobile device. I lived off my phone for a few months after my daughter was born. I made it work, but there were limitations.

      Look forward to seeing the results of your study.
      Aaron

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