In the March issue of Wired there’s an article, “The Netbook Effect: How Cheap Little Laptops Hit the Big Time” by Clive Thompson, that got some wheels turning for me. The article is about the sort of accidental takeover of the netbook – the totally stripped down $300 laptops that hit the market in the form of the Asus Eee PC in late 2007.
The Eee PC’s desigers were working off of the concept behind One Laptop Per Child. The idea was to create an incredibly efficient system that would give max battery life, wireless connectivity, and usability. They expected it to take hold in areas where people don’t have the cash to go out and grab a Dell XPS or Sony Vaio.
But to everyone’s surprise – including Dell, HP, and other US companies – the netbook made the biggest splash in the US and Western Europe. It was portability and price that won people over.
It used to be that when you went to an electronics store to buy a computer, you picked the most powerful one you could afford. Because, who knew?
But here’s the catch: Most of the time, we do almost nothing. Our most common tasks—email, Web surfing, watching streamed videos—require very little processing power. Only a few people, like graphic designers and hardcore gamers, actually need heavy-duty hardware.
After explaining what led to the netbook revolution, Thompson ties it together with this: “Netbooks are evidence that we now know what personal computers are for.“ We’re no longer getting computers as a novel tech gadget, a home accessory equivalent of buying an expensive, turbo-charged sports car that you’ll never push past 70. We’ve finally gotten it.
Sometimes it takes a while to figure out what things are for. Twitter and Facebook are good examples of products that were designed for a particular purpose, but have since become something entirely different. Twitter was just supposed to be a way to keep friends up on the little things going on with you, like Facebook status updates. But it’s quickly become a networking tool, a way to keep up with trends and news, and a tool to build community. Facebook has had a very similar transition as it moved from an interactive profile page for college students to interact with other students at their own schools into what we know today.
But it’s only been a couple of years. What will they become? If there’s one thing we can learn from the netbook revolution, it’s that it’s still an open question. Personal computers have been around more than 20 years, and we’ve only just figured them out.
There’s a pretty robust conversation going on about the internet, the Gospel, and the online church. Sites like ChurchCrunch, Reaching the Online Generation, and Don’t Eat the Fruit are digging deep to see how we can shape the use of technology to enhance the Gospel, and how we can protect ourselves from letting the technological medium control us.
It’s important that as the relatively young technology of the internet (and all that comes along with it) matures, the church – as in each of us – is careful about how we use it in service of the Gospel. It could be a wonderful tool to reach people who we might never have been able to contact in ways that we haven’t even thought of yet…”or it could be horrible.”