June 22, 2009

Cruising on the information superhighway

It's been said that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  IT, though, has always tried to suggest in many ways they are the masters of a fundamental paradigm shift, and are therefore different.  However, we've seen enough now to suggest that- well, we've seen it all before.  The question remains, what does it most look like?

I've been wondering lately if we're looking at something similiar to the dawn of the motoring era.  There's a LOT of similarity.  We've had our very own reincarnation of Henry Ford (does the phrase "available in any colour- so long as it's black" sound like an operating system advert?) , and once the technology has bedded in we've seen the economy collapse. We're seeing the rise of 1930's mafia style gangs prowling the darker corners; we're seeing laws that were made for an earlier era get squeezed out of recognition.  In some countries early motor vehicles had to be preceded down the road by a person waving a flag... sounds a bit like internet censorship.  

The question is only worth asking if there's some insight in it.  The future of computing still has a lot of unknowns, but the auto industry saw the rise of a number of heavyweights, and the early monopolist lost any advantage in a few short years.  Diversity was part of the key: a vehicle for every situation, and it remains so today with ever- smaller parts of the market being catered to (sounds too like Distribution Central really) .

The auto changed our world in ways we still only partially recognise:  urbanisation relies on transport, superspecialisation relies on timely access to multiple markets.  Some of those changes are still unfolding, 100 years after the dawn of the age.  And while the world has undoubtedly sped up (look at the speed cellphones and the internet have changed the way the world communicates),  I'd guess we've got a wee way to go yet to see where computers are going to take us.  

If the similarities hold, however, I'd be expecting Linux to continue to be diversified; we're going to see even more battles over which distro is the righ one, much along the Ford vs Holden battles.  Grandma, as always, will be happy running a 40 year old OS; the teenage boys will have their cutting edge (and falling apart) distros, and some of us will have the family car one-size-fits-all distro while waiting for the more practical considerations to disappear so we can drop down to a fast and fun alternative.  Some people will consider fiddling around under the bonnet a fun activity; others, wonder why on earth you'd want to get dirty that way.

People will continue to be people, whatever.  There will always be a substantial proportion of the population that believe that if it's red, it's faster (no, that's not necessarily a reference to Fedora).   And in the end, the world is a better place because of them too; practical considerations aren't all there is to life.

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