Are Computers Becoming Irrelevant?

I have loved computers since that Christmas break long, long ago when my brother in law and I stayed up all night playing Odyssey: The Compleat Apventure on his Apple II.  Later, I spent countless hours playing Starflight and writing shareware games on an IBM clone.  Even later, I wrote and recorded hundreds of songs and took my home office paperless, all on my trusty computer.  In order to learn as much as possible about computers, I started building my own.  It makes me a little sad to realize that my beloved is quickly becoming irrelevant.

But the fact remains they are, because we just don’t need them anymore.  A confederacy of other devices have stolen all the fun and turned the once proud computer into an over-priced media server or typewriter.  The addition of an HP MediaSmart Server to my home network removes even the data storage role from my desktop computer’s job description.

So how did it happen?

Let’s start with games.  I have fond memories of late nights playing all sorts of computer games, from the excellent until abandoned Front Page Sports games to most of the Civilizations.  Then came Nintendo, the PSP, the X-Box and, finally, the Wii.  I held out during the PSP and X-Box era, but one game of Mario Kart on my kids’ Wii was all it took to convince me that the computer is an ineffective and obsolete gaming platform.  From this point on, it’s all about Mississippi Queen on Guitar Hero.

For email the herd has migrated to the iPhone and other lesser, but effective, devices.  We also use text messaging a lot more that we used to.  My family uses Beejive IM on our iPhones and iPod Touches, both to allow the kids to text from their iPods and to avoid the cost of traditional text messaging.  For music, we have our iPhones and iPods, AppleTV and, most recently, the ability to hear and display Pandora through our home theater system, via Samsung’s excellent BD-P2550 blu-ray player.  The Pandora application on this box is easy and beautiful.  It shows the last few songs played, with album art, and lets you easily switch between stations.  You can also watch your Netflix instant queue on this box.  It’s a brilliant strategy for the DVD makers to go on the offensive in the turf war.  PC makers have been trying, unsuccessfully, to displace DVD players for years.

If you just want to rent movies online or easily access your home movies, there is no better solution that AppleTV and iTunes.  Again, except for a server tucked in a closet somewhere, no computer needed.

All of this leaves the computer in the unenviable role of typewriter.  Sure, we need typewriters.  We use them every day.  But we don’t love them.  Or think of them as fun.  And, sadly for the PC makers, we don’t want to pay much for them.  So all these new devices steal the fun and the dollars, while the once mighty computer becomes a commodity, like paper, pens and other office supplies

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