Apple’s newest toys have many looking at their wallets and crying just a bit. Of course, the reviews by consumer electronics blogs take window-shopping to a new level. Of all the gadgets and gizmos talked about, the one that I wish I could drop a pretty penny on isn’t an Apple product though. One of the more eye-catching products puts even the highly-anticipated iPad (retina display and all) to shame— Ideum’s 55” Pro touch-screen table. It’s a 4th generation touch table with 40 touch points, 3.4GHz Core i7, and NVIDIA’s Quadro 600 graphics card. Together, this makes for a very powerful workstation. In short, I want this as my desk, even if it costs five figures. Big kid toys do have big kid prices.
Costs aside, though, Ideum’s Pro is but one example of how developers have pushed consumers further into what Sherry Turkle describes as ‘tinkering,’ a sort of trial and error approach to interacting with computers. By this train of reasoning, there is no need for an instruction manual to operate a $20,000 product like the Pro.
In his 2006 TED talk, Jeff Han reaffirmed this very way of thinking. He revealed the potential of touch-driven computer displays in a demo of a prototype touch-display drafting table. Suffice it to say, the technological world is well on its way to ushering consumers into an “interface-free” way of thinking.
Nearly three decades before the first of generation of iPads came on the market, computer scientists were already fiddling around with multi-touch sensory technology. The market is only barely catching up to the technology that is actually available. Accessibility to these technologies has only slowly increased. Tablets like the Amazon Kindle Fire, Google Nexus 7 rival the iPad at competitive prices. However, it will be a decade or more before the large-scale multi-touch systems permeate through the mass market. One day, in the far off distant future, HP’s 11 x 7 ft. VantagePoint touchscreen may be a staple in every household, but until then, it will still maintain its lovely $125,000 price tag. At $8400, the Samsung SUR40 touch table is a bargain compared to the Microsoft PixelSense’s HP screen or even Ideum’s Pro… but still way out of reach. A girl can still dream though. While I geek out over the slightly unrealistic purchase of the Lenovo IdeaCentre A520, the closest thing to a multi-touch table, I’ll actually be dreaming about the world’s largest touchscreen, a 32.8 x 9.2 ft. screen with 4900 x 1700 resolution, 100 touch point detection, and 1000 infrared LEDs. Those specs have as many consumers in awe today as they were during the Industrial Revolution when the hoopla was over steam power and combustion engines.
Now that I’m done geeking out..
At one time, technological progress was defined by the physical enlargement of machinery, whereby an increase in power was the direct result of an increase in size. Trade and economic growth began to be defined by powerful engines and societies developed an obsession over big production machines, heralding them as the saving graces of the economy.
Sometime between the invention of the steam pump and the release of the iPhone 5, the neurosis reversed itself and inventions slimmed down. The conventional understanding of technological advancement bears no resemblance to the raw power of a steam pump. Tinkering no longer calls to mind the image of oversized wrenches or muscles. That was aptly replaced by a slender man wearing a black turtleneck and holding a sleek and delicate iPhone.
From the Industrial Age to the Information Age, the GDP of many countries received a boost from the technology industry rather than industrial technology. The often hyped up digital revolution that marked the turn of the century brought with it not only a reduction in size, but a microminiaturization of technologies. The shift from analog to digital highlighted the importance of Turkle’s theory of tinkering to social scientists and cultural observers rather precipitously. Though considered a triumph for bright scientists and designers like Jeff Han and Bill Buxton, the ease with which consumers can eschew the complexity of technology is frightening. While these researchers continue to improve the human-computer interaction, and while it makes consumers of technology much more adroit with their fingers, this trial and error mindset with big kid toys does foment some concerns. While some would consider the Information Age as the mark of society’s development, others caution that these advances in technology may have more of an insidious effect on individuals than we think.
By: Dy Phi
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