Talking social way too soon

Just ran across my first regular column for . It was published in in June, 1999, and written three months earlier, about when went up. Here’s a passage that stands out:

We’re still less than halfway through the shift from personal to social computing. Most households do not have PCs, and most that do are not connected to the Net. According to design critic and user advocate Don Norman, the two basic reasons for this are: computers are too complicated for many people, and the Net still lacks a plug-and-run infrastructure. He lays out a short-form prognosis in the title of his latest book, The Invisible Computer: Why Good Products Can Fail, the Personal Computer Is So Complex, and Information Appliances Are the Solution.

People are social. Telephony is equally social, because it lets people converse over simple appliances (incomprehensible cell phones and PBXes notwithstanding). Computing is social too, but only for a minority. There is still no computing appliance that’s as social as the telephone. Will Linux deliver it?

I suggest that the first social computing appliance—let’s call it the first SC—will cost less than $400, look friendlier than an iMac, get on the Internet with the ease of a phone call, and produce Microsoft Office-compatible files for those who want to use simple productivity applications.

Not great prophesy, but … interesting, anyway.


  1. JZA’s avatar

    Interesting, that was the year where many companies where looking for Internet appliances. The big failed part was that they all decided to pull out at “kin speed”. Almost too fast… almost like when Microsoft decided to control the netbook market up to a point to erradicate the basic model of the original EEEPC.

    Do we need those upgrades? Did we need the internet appliance?

    Right now people look at Cloud as the re-birth of the appliance. From ChromeOS to EGo a year ago. It seems that the thin client concept still around. The biggest network out there (no not facebook but Skype) also invested in appliances concepts.

  2. Terry Heaton’s avatar

    The fruit of one’s prophecies determine one’s status as a prophet. You are certainly that. Plus, you’re an old coot, so you have all the qualifications!

  3. Ian Brodie’s avatar

    Did you just predict the iPad? Or was it the iPhone?! Not bad at all though – you got the social element driving a lot of this. I guess the big difference is that the social element (e.g. facebook) is on lots and lots of low cost platforms rather than one dominant one.


  4. george kyaw naing’s avatar

    I agree with Ian. You just predicted iPhone or iPad. I will even go a bit further, you predicted something cheaper and more user-friendly than those Apple products. US$400 is a big deal for many in the third world.

    When the price comes down and the convenience factor goes up, we will witness the rise of your real SC. Is it same as ubiquitous/pervasive computing etc?


  5. george kyaw naing’s avatar

    “People are social … ”

    A very obvious thing but something that we overlook quite often. Facebook is actually the first step in a 1000-li journey to SC nirvana.

    I would like to mention only 1 non-feature or lack of feature in Facebook. In real lives, friends stay in strata or concentric circles whereas Facebook teat all people alike. Close friends have the same access and privileges as very distant, casual acquaintances. This encourages phoniness, faking and hypocrisy.

    I wish the true SC arrives sooner than later because Facebook still keeps lonely, very lonely amidst 2341 friends.


  6. Andy’s avatar

    re: technology prediction – one of my favorite things is to seek out instances in older speculative fiction films and write down ways they got things so wrong.

    In relation to your post here – one of the earliest instances of a “social communication appliance” in film that I can remember was Fahrenheit 451, as Linda Montag was obsessed with the television that allowed her to determine the outcome of the next scene. I absolutely love how people imagined communication before most of them knew the Web was being developed.

    Likewise, another favorite is Videodrome. No one had a PC and a website, everyone had a video camera and a personal television channel.

  7. florence’s avatar

    Exactly eleven years ago you guessed the psychological and the real price that the majority of people can afford it is a concrete form of intelligence.
    If you accept i would suggest one idea because as you said people are social .As formal wrting or communication creates a social barrier i predict that future websites will be very easy to use and toquickly understand and the first model is the home page of google.
    when this will happen then we will really live in atotally interconnected society.
    cuisine équipée

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